Back to the Future Part II
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Young Jennifer: I’m old!
Old Jennifer: I’m young!
Speaking in the pub with Jonathan he was the one who came up with the idea of choosing Back to the Future Part II as our second film. At first I’ve got to admit I thought it was a crazy idea – but the more I swilled it round my mind the more it made sense…
Like: there’s a whole lot of stuff there to dig down into and wrap around teeth around… Everything from Biff Tannen’s parallels with the 45th President and how most days it feels like we’re all living the darkest timeline to the fact that since October 21, 2015 we’re now living in world past the Back to the Future Future which I’m trying not to think about too much in case I have a mental breakdown (this is what it must have been like living in a world post-1984). There’s the whole sequel thing and (whoops) the maybe slight contentious claim that Back to the Future Part II is maybe the best sequel of all time – not only because it’s a fantastic film in it’s own right – that genuinely manages to take all of the fun of the original and stretch it into strange new shapes (minus that creepy thing with whatever the hell it was Marty McFly was trying to do with his mother): but also it literally reruns scenes from the first film from a totally different perspective. It’s like a deconstruction of the impossible bind that sequels always find themselves in: give the audience exactly the same thing but at the same time – make it different.
Another thing is how beautifully the film kinda flips upon itself – like: at the risk of admitting too much – there’s a part of me that has a secret hankering to see the bad guys win. With comic books especially a lot of the time my favourite part of a superhero thing is the bit where the evil villain is in the ascendance. And the point where the heroes turn the tide and manage to reassert the status quo always leaves me feeling a little bit – oh (disappointed).
What’s very cool about BTTF2 is how the middle shows you exactly the sort of world that exists where the bad guys have already won. Which I dunno – just seems kinda beautiful to me; and gives the car chase climax of the film a real added oomph because they’re not trying to stop something from happening – they’re just to stop something that’s already happened. Or will happen. Or whatever. I don’t know – time travel is weird.
Altho – hell: time travel is another feature of the film that’s there for the taking – like: not only does BTTF2 have probably one the best method of best methods of cinematic time travel out there (“The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”) but arguably – it probably (with it’s all alternative 1985 stuff) does the most interesting things with it… Altho hell – if anyone wants to try and make a convincing case for Twelve Monkeys, Los Cronocrímenes, Edge of Tomorrow or – god forbid – Primer then I’d be interested to hear your thoughts…
There’s also: Robert Zemeckis who (is this just me?) seems pretty unheralded in terms of cinema and film generally. I mean – there’s millions of geeks out there waiting to triumph the likes of Steven Spielberg who is pretty much mostly acclaimed as being a great director – but where’s the love for Rob? Is it because his films are too much about the visuals or is it something?
Not forgetting the central relationship of the whole thing – Doc and Marty. I mean: in a world where everything has a prequel or sequel or side-quest attached (Jaws 19 anyone?): where’s the film showing us how this special friendship began huh? Like pretty much everyone else out there: I have questions.
And oh obviously obviously – if you really feel the need – we could talk about Doc And Mharti (Wubba Lubba dub-dub!)
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.
Instead: I was kinda inspired by something Jonathan said when he was pitching the idea about how BTTF2 is basically “the perfect film.” Because shit – as soon as he said it I found myself nodding my head in agreement. And then I started to wonder about the reasons why.
Full disclosure: there is a part of me that feels very strongly that the majority of the most perfect movies that have ever been (and ever will be) came out in the 1980s. And there’s a version of this film club where it’s just one 80s film after another and me trying my best to rhapsodise about them in different ways (“Now what you have to understand is that The Terminator is hands down a better film than Terminator 2 and here are a few of the reasons why…”).
Like: is it just like Homer Simpson saying “Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974, it’s a scientific fact” or – damn it: is there somekind of deeper reason that can be pointed to where you can actually point to objective features of the films and say that it’s because of how they’re built that makes them artistically superior… Plus you know: some stuff about Alan Moore’s concept of Ideaspace and well – to use the example at hand: the best version of a time travel movie has already been made and everything else can only follow in it’s footsteps…
Or hell – maybe I’m just getting old.
What do you think?
I think it’s a great choice 🙂 I’m gonna save my thoughts until I’ve rewatched the film over the weekend, but can I go on record as saying that when I suggested this I had been drinking.
(Quick succession rewatching is different to years passing rewatching. Quick succession tends to make you see the seams in the film, years passing you see how you’ve changed.)
Years ago, I would have got into a really in-depth discussion about the logic of the plot, the rules of time travel and would have snuggled the film closely with all its cleverness and production design, and predictions, and its Donald Trump! and logic! and structure! Once it gets back to the past, it has a really tight nesting within the first film that’s delightful. Past me (and present me) would have loved to work its logic through to check for problems – how is its time travel different to Terminator? What about the paradoxes? I love puzzle films, and they reward quick succession rewatching.
But nowadays, I want to talk about Jennifer. And why she gets abandoned in an alleyway for some later plot convenience and then dumped on a porch in the darkest timeline, where drive-bys are a common occurrence. Why she doesn’t get any agency at all. Time travel films are about choices. Why did the filmmakers put all their efforts into the intricate plotting of 1955 and no effort into Jennifer? Why did they recast reshoot for continuity, then do nothing with her for the rest of the film? And when you look past plot fun, the movie gets a bit weaker…
Let’s break the movies into 3 sections
\plot details yonder\
2015 is a beautiful piece of production design, callbacks to the original, the Jennifer problem, some brilliant setups. And Marty choosing to buy the almanac. Because? I don’t remember him being supergreedy. He saw an opportunity? I guess. I think it might be because the 80s happened and you want to make a point about Donald Trump. We meet Marty’s son who is a wimp for some reason like his grandfather? Then we have a load more callbacks to the first movie. That’s all really fun, and it’s different this time, except its not! They succeeded! Then Jennifer goes and gets found by the cops. OMG Jennifer, you’re not helping by being dumped in a alleyway unconscious. Then there’s a load of special effects fun with people playing their older/younger selves/children. Except for Jennifer of course, her daughter has to be played by Michael J Fox. Jennifer hides in a closet rather than doing anything, Biff steals the time machine, Marty makes a bad decision with Flea with no ramifications. Jennifer ends up unconscious again (OMG MOVIE) and we go to…
1985! The darkest timeline and here’s where you make the point about Donald Trump. Jennifer’s been dumped on a porch somewhere that may or may not be her house, so we get a different female character. It’s Lorainne! Lorainne is drinking heavily again, which we learned from the first film was her response to being raped by Biff in 1955. And she’s married to Biff for some reason. Why? Because her husband died and she makes no choices. Her husband’s dead – that’s Marty’s dad! And Doc Brown is in a psych ward. Now, its debatable which of these reasons is supposed to be the motivator for Doc and Marty to fix this, or just generally its pouring on the shit. Or is it because greed is bad? Some more explanations about corruption and badness being bad, and we go to…
1955! Some excellent plot playoff, intricacy, suspense and fun. It’s incredibly smart how its interwoven with the first film. It’s all plot payoff though – and it sets up the plot of BTTF3. Oh, good. They can go do that in the Old West! They’ll definitely make lots more money with a third film, but do remember the theme of this movie, which is greed is bad.
There’s no character payoff, people keep talking about how Marty can’t stop making dumb choices when people call him a chicken and then at the end of the movie, he gets called a chicken and he fucks up. But its ultimately fine. Because Doc rescues everyone.
Where’s Jennifer? She’s on the porch in a 2015 which now no longer exists. Its quite a sad choice with all the energy that went into the 1955 bit.
I disagree that its a perfect movie. It’s got some great plotting, I enjoyed it, it has incredible production design but its not really about anything. Except greed being bad. Which is a brilliant, ironic theme for sequels because sequels only get made for money. And the film is sort of about this? I guess? You can’t make choices for people, or change the past except for the events of the first movie, which is fine. But no more.
Because for Biff, its the best timeline!
So with regards to the Jennifer point, thanks for pointing it out because it is ridiculous and it was fun to watch the movie again with that in mind. They do sort of hang a lantern on it in the third movie but it is pretty bad. Another weird plot element is how all the characters pair off so easily. Marty and his dad (and indeed Biff in one timeline) all marry their high-school sweetheart, and it’s implied that Doc Brown settles down with the first women who shows any interest in him. Anyway, I guess if only for structural integrity of the plot you need that continuity, but it’s still weird.
I think there are a lot more messages in this film then the sort of headline moralising of “you don’t always have to respond to being called chicken” and erm “don’t try to cheat at gambling”. Its the film’s view of progress which is more telling.
There is this idea of “the darkest timeline” which is created by Biff. This raises the stakes substantially. When Marty goes back in time in the first film, the only change acknowledged to the future is localised to his immediate family and when Marty screws up his life, the future is basically the same.
In contrast if even one white trash person becomes slightly wealthy then the world will catch fire. Bikers will drive around the town centre and, horror of horrors, a black family might live in the home you grew up in!
The message is “let the Biffs win just once and that’s it for civilisation. They must be actively kept in their place.” For a safe future we need clean-cut, nice, white boys to make it and beat down the upstarts who make moves on our women. There are no problems that can’t be improved by punching a member of the Biff Family in the face before covering them in manure. Look at how broken Biff is in new 1985 timeline, he’s been turned into cuck-Biff presumably following years of systematic abuse at the hands of the McFly family.
Despite this, they clearly haven’t gone far enough because the non-darkest timeline future is still shit. Admittedly his daughter is hauntingly beautiful but Marty is a loser, his son is loser, and the world they live in is rife with crime, drugs, corruption, and corporate surveillance. The McFly’s neighbourhood may not be actually on fire, but it’s fairly grim. Is this just satire by the movie makers, despair at 80s decadence, in keeping with Bladerunner and Robocop’s similarly bleak? It doesn’t seem biting however, more of a apologetic shrug – yes the future sucks, the present sucks, but it could be so much worse is their ultimate view of progress. The film is having a conversation with the first film – when Marty was so desperate to run from the 50s to the 80s there are many Americans who would reasonably ask why?
This conversation with the first film continues with the characters themselves. Why are Marty and Doc friends? Their relationship is interesting because its not father and son, or even uncle and nephew. Doc let’s Marty get on with his side of the plan and expects him to deliver on them. They are colleagues. Doc is the tech guy and Marty is the hunting dog, getting regularly assaulted, risking life (and indeed his very existence) repeatedly to achieve the specific goal. So what does Doc see in Marty? It’s his complete inability to give up and accept failure. But the second movie undercuts it’s main character, Marty does not earn victory to ride off in a trail of flames at the end of this movie. He’s a loser in the future and almost destroyed even that precisely because of his lack of humility and ability to see the big picture.
This subversiveness should be default for sequels, but instead it’s a lesson that needs to be learned, especially now all movies are sequels. And by picking at its own weakness it turns its simple plot into a cats cradle of different options – Of course Biff didn’t just get punched once by George McFly and become his obsequious servant for life. We know he wanted murderous revenge and the second film shows is he wasted no time seeking it. Even better is the little scene in front of the clock tower where Doc Brown helps Doc Brown, who is ultimately helping Doc Brown, which hints at a whole Primer style multiple time jump sub plot where Doc had a whole time-travelling lifetime we’re never allowed to see. Like Gandalf in the Hobbit dropping the Dwarves at Mirkwood, off camera Doc has battles to face and tightropes to walk that he could never even explain to Marty or indeed us.
I have forgotten to mention my favourite scene, which is the hoverboard over the pond scene in 2015. That is the movie’s jujitsu manifesto – Yes the righteous must win, they must defeat the Biffs in their eternal struggle. But you don’t win with a pitbull hoverboard or extendable bat, you have swallow your pride and get your hair wet. Build tension, face your future like an oncoming train and then simply step out of the way and watch your enemies drive into plate glass, or have a heart attack after going back in time, or drive headlong into manure, or punch your hidden body armour. It’s cool.
The strange thing for me – doing the Marty McFly thing and going back and rewatching the past was how I felt and reacted to all things Biff Tannen.
First of all: omg Thomas F. Wilson is a total frigging marvel. Across the whole of the BTTF trilogy he does so much: There’s Normal 1985 Biff / Darkest Timeline 1985 Biff / there’s young 1955 Biff / there’s old 2015 Biff plus also Griff and of course not forgetting Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen and he makes them all feel like completely separate characters: which is just well – a pretty sweet achievement (compare and contrast with Michael J Fox who only manages to pull off Marty McFly / Marty McFly in old person make-up / Marty McFly is a dress / and Marty McFly with an old-timey Irish accent which I’m pretty sure is some sort of hate crime).
And Thomas F. Wilson doesn’t just do different characters – but he modulates them so that they’re in different registers too: like at the risk of stating the total and complete obvious – Griff Tannen and Mad Dog are from whole different movies. Griff is all manic energy and that non-stop head bopping (too many sweets?) that makes my brain grin every time he steps on the screen and a voice that makes him sound like a cartoon (this is a good thing): while part of what’s so great about Mad Dog is that – compared to everything that’s come before – he feels like the real deal. And even tho he’s obviously such a cardboard cut-out archetype – the impression he gives off is: whatever the opposite of a cartoon is: that he’s stepped out from someplace more real. Which is what makes him feel like such a threat…
Altho he still makes time to showboat just a bit – those few seconds after he shoots Marty and he does his little bow / dance thing is *chef kisses fingers*
Speaking of: I really really want to be able to agree with Jonathan’s theory of BTTF’s “jujitsu manifesto” but that final Mad Dog “pistols at eight o’clock” confrontation is a fly in the ointment… Yeah Marty uses his brain-power with the Clint Eastwood body armour move – but at the end of the day: he still triumphs with a fist-fight which I think sums up BTTF’s ambivalent philosophy on violence: on the one hand you need to learn to walk away if someone calls you a chicken but on the other hand – sometimes a man has to fight…
Maybe this is to be expected. It’s a late 20th Century action movie and ideology being what it is – we have to have films where being the hero means always winning the fight (imagine a version of Back to the Future where George loses his fight to Biff: what would that look like? Would Lorraine still want to get with him? Would we?). The basic message being: don’t let anyone goad you into a fight – but if you do then win (through the sheer force of your goodness).
But yeah: back to Biff – I mean: I don’t know if this is just me going soft in my old age or just a healthy distrust of simplistic binary narratives or whatever: but what I really wanted to know is: what’s his story? Or in other words: why is he such a jerk / bad guy? There’s a bit Part 2 where we see his house and hear an old lady calling from the house. I did a quick google and managed to find this from the Back to the Future Part II novelisation:
“The front door opened and Biff walked out. / ‘Biff!’ the elderly woman’s voice called from inside the Tannen house. ‘Where are you going, Biff?’ / Biff started to walk quickly away from the house. / ‘To get my car, Grandma!’ he called over his shoulder. / ‘But when are you coming back, precious?’ his grandma whined. ‘My feet hurt, and I want you to rub my toes some more. And put polish on them!’ / Biff waved violently back at the house. / Marty called back to Doc on the walkie-talkie. ‘Never mind, Doc. Biff lives here all right.’“
Like: what is the backstory here? Who is this Grandma Tannen and how does she relate to Biff growing up to be so odious? Although actually – knowing how much Doc and Marty destroy his life over and over again (and not just him – but his ancestors and his grandchildren): I don’t really know how much I can blame him…. It’s like the eternal dynamic of all action movies and etc right – the hero starts as the underdog and eventually triumphs while the villain goes the other way… So if you start off from the ending: does that mean that underdog villain is now the good guy? If Marty goes on to have a successful life does that mean in Back to the Future IV he’s like Darkest Timeline Biff? Only he’s learned not to be so ostentatious?
And Biff is just… I dunno. Like: how damaged is he? Is he really beyond hope or saving? You know – maybe all he really wants is to be loved – he’s just clueless about how to get it…? (Sad face).
Oh – I also wanted to talk about the Jennifer stuff that Clem brought up too… I mean: I’ve got to admit that I’m a little conflicted. Like: I’ve talked it over with some of my friends and I’m still not sure if there’s like a good position to take. The guilty secret of the Back to the Future sequels is that they weren’t planned ahead. The whole “where we’re going we won’t need roads” bit was just supposed to be a throwaway joke right? (And do I remember right that in an early draft Doc Brown was going to say that Marty’s kids where gay or something?) and Jennifer is there because – well: the way we structure our stories is that at the end of everything you’re united with your one true-love romantic partner right? Which I’m guessing is why they roofie Jennifer and leave her in an alleyway (!?!?!) – because she is – or represents the ending that has to be deferred: the treasure that has to be won or whatever – you know: not so much a person – more a goal or an end-point.
Which yeah is obviously disgusting and bad – and also: (thinking face emoji) I wonder why we’re all so messed up as a culture?
But all of that leads to the question of: would it be possible / what would a “feminist” Back to the Future look like? Like: if they made Jennifer an equal character and had her join in with the adventures – then how different would the other two movies look? Which you know: starts to get really tricky because it would basically change everything. Like: if you weren’t just going to do something really superficial and just have her be in the background of every scene: but actually have her take part then it’s basically like Biff with the Almanac and everything changes… (Not that I’m saying that it’s a bad thing mind you – more that it’s changing into something very very different: that we probably can’t even picture).
Which you know: is actually a pretty good example of social justice in general – if you really want to make it happen in more than just a token sort of way: it’s going to alter things in ways that we can’t even imagine… which you know is kinda scary – but also kinda cool.
Hi all, I’m Dan, I’m a friend of Frankie’s. Thanks for having me in the group!
I was going to save my commentary till after I re-watched, but the stuff about Biff and his past and why he is the way he is got me thinking about George Steven’s Giant. If you haven’t seen it I won’t give too much away, but one of them main themes, to me anyway, is the “death of the cowboy”. It was a certain breed of person, man and/or woman, who crossed the frontier and settled the lands which became this country (same can be said of other colonialized countries, Australia, South Americas, etc. for better or for worse, but that’s a different discussion). These were hard people, wild and unsettled. The softies stayed on the East Coast or died along the way. It was the strong and the brutal who survived. It was the Mad Dogs who paved the way for the kinder, gentler society that followed along. Fast forward, you have a lot of Biffs in 1955. You have a lot of anxious, wild, frustrated people who don’t have a frontier to cross. They are stuck in a society who doesn’t look kindly on their rough and tumble ways, so they find outlets for their frustration. Steven’s film *spoilers ahead* deals with this in a more direct way – once Hudson’s Bick Benedict accepts his half-native grandchild as his own and tries to defend them, he can no longer punch his way out of his problems. He’s a man who has crossed over to a new society and the bygone ways of the “cowboy” no longer hold any truth for him.
Now, I’m not sure this is exactly the thought process that went into the Biff characterizations, but I feel it’s a theme that’s been touched upon in other work that readily applies.
Hey there, I’m Eli, I’m a friend of Mazin’s and thanks for having me in the group, too! BTTF2 was my favourite film for years and I even wrote part of an undergrad thesis on it (!) so I was keen to see if my affection still held (answer: yes). It’s also been great to read your thoughts and write about it again, so thanks!
What struck me most this time, though, was how uncanny it is. To be clear, cos it’s bandied around a lot in sci-fi discussions, I’m not quite talking about the ‘uncanny valley’ effect – that ‘it’s so real it must be real’ freakiness of humanoid AI. I mean something closely related – uncanny in the sense of a familiarity that’s just out of reach, or a reality that’s your own that you can’t quite live in. A huge chunk of the film – 2015, bad 1985 and Marty watching BTTF1’s Marty in 1955 is permeated by this – this feeling that where you are is also unnervingly where you just can’t be. I was trying to think of whether this kind of effect is inherent to time travel – whether, say, Quantum Leap was an uncanny show (it always felt so when Sam looked in the mirror, right?) or whether it’s something BTTF2 alone pulls off spookily perfectly, and if so, why? In either case, I have no idea whether Zemeckis (praise be!) et al were doing it on purpose.
One thing I’m sure about is that this uncanny effect works because it’s personal – we’re put in Marty and Doc’s shoes, for better or for worse (putting class and gender analysis aside for the moment) and so we see the future and the permeable past and present from their perspectives. It’s pretty clear that if we were just dropped into Cafe 80s having not just arrived from the past, if the whole movie were set in 2015 with a character who inhabited that reality unquestioningly, it would *not* be uncanny. We’d be totally au fait with that shit.
But being in Marty and Doc’s shoes throughout means that, I think, the uncanniness comes not from mastery of time (which suggests mastery of death, which is not inherently uncanny, though you could certainly spin something out to make it so), but from seeing our past and future selves exist without us being them. This is basically what happens in most of the film, and it’s amazing to me that such an emphasis is put on this kind of…oh fuck, I just want to say it – this ontological displacement. Sorry! There are probably better ways to describe witnessing a self that isn’t you. But I realised, on rewatching it, that this was one of the main reasons I got hooked on it when I was a kid, and why it was so formative to my love of sci-fi – I wanted desperately to see the future, to know what was in it and to watch my future self exist in it. That eerie leap (ahem) was so appealing, and in BFFT2 Marty, Doc and Jennifer get to do it.
So that’s why those scenes like the McFlys in their future home having dinner have stuck with me – not cos of the Black and Decker pizza hydrator, though I still want one of those, or old Marty’s hilariously Philip K Dick-esque double-tie effect (PKD always gives his characters the worst clothes, and the ’70s two-tie look is just the kind of ridiculous schtick he went in for). It’s because it brilliantly conveys how frightening it must be to watch yourself from afar, unable to access yourself, unable to be yourself. Like, Jennifer’s future family are intimately familiar to her yet they’re also unknown, unknowable and an unbridgeable distance away – and that’s terrifying. And it seems to me that the directorial choices they made in these scenes ramp that up, too; the spookiness of seeing Marty in his daughter’s face (though yeah, why is it all the dude’s genes that dominate – where are Jennifer’s?), and the fact George is upside down (apparently to distract from the fact that it wasn’t Crispin Glover playing him), like an inadvertent symbol of displacement – the whole thing is familiar but wildly disorientating.
Also, thinking about it, it does actually circle back to that uncanny valley thing, in a way. Not that I wanna be too much of a dick and quote Freud, but fuck it – he says that when you encounter your double there’s a ‘defensive urge to eject it from your ego as something alien’. And BTTF2, knowingly or not (had Zemeckis & Gale read their Freud, or is it just this innate sense that doubles are always scary?) is the perfect demonstration of this. Jennifer, obviously, and also that beautiful ‘Doc meets Doc’ scene already mentioned. The only time this double weirdness doesn’t happen is when old Biff gives young Biff the almanac. I had to google it to find out why this doesn’t make either of them eject each other from one another’s egos as something alien – it’s apparently cos old Biff was prepared for it, or something. I guess things aren’t uncanny if you expect them?
Anyway, what amazed me, as the film went on, is that this idea of the uncanny being ‘the familiar that’s unfamiliar’ gets a whole new twist in bad 1985. Here it’s not your self that’s out of reach, but your world.
It’s galling and worrying to rewatch and be like, ah shit, why did you make an African-American family representative of people who inhabited the bad neighbourhood here – why did the writers think that’s what poverty implied? This oblivious choice mars BTTF2 in the same way that we’re shown 1985 Biff is a rapist and domestic abuser but Lorraine stays (and gets a boob job for him?!?), and 1955 Biff is an insane stalker but hey, that’s just his character, and as already said, that Jennifer spends most of the film fucking comatose. This stuff is really uncomfortable to rewatch.
When I was young, though, bad 1985 had a huge effect. Maybe it’s because when you stay the same but your world becomes unknown, it’s like waking up inside a dream, and that was fascinating to me. Especially when it’s such an intricately drawn dream, (in this case) a wild dystopia. Also, they play on this by having Marty literally wake up in bed on the 27th Floor – he’s the dreamer, awake. It’s a different kind of uncanny, this – you remain a unified entity, but every single second your world becomes less and less coherent. I’d love Marty to have stumbled around in Biff’s 1985 longer, maybe go to Bad Switzerland to see what’s up there – but somewhat boringly, Doc appears to help him out and the film goes off course from its ‘Waking Life’ potential and back into classic action flick. Alas. As an aside, the Mad Maxy, biker and beard-heavy town square as Marty flails to Biff Tannen’s Pleasure Paradise is one of my favourite birds-eye-view scenes in all of film. I think the Flesh Fair in Spielberg’s AI is so influenced by it, too.
So the question, with all this uncanniness, is: did Zemeckis and Gale intend it? Was it just a side-effect? Because for me, it’s the overriding feel of the film.
Okay, i’ve said too much – but just three more things:
1) Of course the uncanniness continues into revisiting 1955. But what I love about that is it’s filmed like it’s fucking ‘Rashomon’! We get a new story to follow while the story we know plays out in the background, and the multiple perspectives are just beautiful. Quite aside from the headfucking fact it’s the same protagonist in both.
2) the newspaper headlines – the side articles! in Bad 1985, there’s “Nixon to Seek Fifth Term”, and the Vietnam War is still happening. Jesus! (It intrigues me that when ‘Emmett Brown Commended’ comes along, though, the changed political headline is ‘Reagan to Seek Second Term’ – I mean, ok it’s real, but it’s hardly good…).
3) On the Jennifer tip, and the idea of a feminist BTTF2, I could say so much. Doc’s words right at the beginning – “she’s not essential to my plan”, and the fact that *all* she asks about the future before he zaps her with the sleep inducing alpha rhythm generator is whether she has a ‘big wedding’ and a ‘big house’ – I mean, argggh. Just so bad. Plus leaving her forever (cos she’s not in the 3rd movie, right?) comatose on a porch in bad 1985 is some fucking pernicious misogyny dressed up as ‘well of course, what else would we do? she’s irrelevant’. Ugh. It’s clear that the true romance of the film is between Doc and Marty (I wrote about this yesterday, in fact), and Jennifer and Einstein are just their neglected secondaries. But I’ve already said too much, so I’ll stop there!
There’s a scene that I can’t find on youtube (goddamnit) when Doc and Marty first land back in 1955 by the billboard where Doc will get struck by lightning. It’s basically just exposition stuff but what makes it so good in some way that I can’t describe is how both Doc and Marty take it in turns to run up to the camera and look through it…
Like: I’m at the very edge of my movie terminology here because I don’t quite know how to describe it – but it’s like “blocking” or something similar? But holy shit – BTTF and Zemeckis and whoever are really really good at it. Particularly in the sense that they kinda push it to the point where it almost (and here’s that word again) – becomes cartoony.
Like: it’s all just stretched just a little touch beyond what we normally think of as reality with everyone over-acting just before the point of complete ridiculousness…. (Hell: most of them even have catch-phrases! “Great Scott!” “This is heavy!” “MCFLY!”)
I don’t know if this is a stretch but wonder if this has any relation to Eli’s notion of the films being “uncanny”? “A reality that’s your own that you can’t quite live in.” Like as any fool knows you can’t live inside a cartoon. But because BTTF presents itself with real people and physical locations it obfuscates itself. And the really interesting thing for me is: is that it’s uncanniness or over-the-topness (or whatever you want to call it) is what makes it such a total blast to watch and experience (film as rollercoaster ride). Again: thinking of alternative versions: we can try and imagine a version of BTTF where it’s directed by Paul Thomas Anderson or whoever and the whole thing is a total boring drag…
I think this is even more heightened for me because (full disclosure) I actually had the BTTF2 and BTTF3 novelisations when I was a kid (yeah I know I know – a total hit with the ladies): which makes watching/rewatching the films even more uncanny – watching actors react the scenes from the books but making them all pop and explode so much more. (The difference between seeing “Great Scott” on the page and hearing and watching Christopher Lloyd somehow enunciate every single syllable like they’re made of chocolate).
And plus also: the fact that so much of BTTF2 and 3 rhyme so much with what’s gone before. I mean – I’m struggling to think of anything else that does this at all (and the only thing that comes to mind is Watchmen which actually seems pretty telling….). But everywhere you go there’s always Marty waking up with his mum sitting next him in the dark, there’s always Biff bothering him in some bar and there’s always a truckload of manure… And if Eli doesn’t mind me echoing her comments: but again – there’s a PKD sensation to this – that reality is only a very thin film and that underneath there’s a never-ending succession of repeated moments and motifs.
Great Scott! etc