Back to the Future: Part 4

Biff gets clobbered, George and Lorraine kiss, Marty invents rock and roll.

Chapters 14 – 15. “The Big Date” (1:16:40 – 1:24:38)

BttF 14

Logline: Biff unexpectedly appears and forces himself on Lorraine, spurning George to fight back against his archenemy.

The Sequence. Oh this should be fun.

What we’ve got here is a gripping, exciting, pivotal, character developing, crowd pleasing moment, and none of it would be possible if there were not what is pretty clearly a near-rape. I don’t know if you’d be able to get away with it today. And not because we shouldn’t shy away from depicting characters like Biff, a clearly bad guy who’s capable of doing bad things. It’s more about the device of using the rape of a female character to spurn the heroism of a passive male character.

To be honest, I wasn’t aware of the problems of this kind of trope until just recently. Back during the fifth season of Game of Thrones, there was an infamous marital rape scene, and it caused a LOT of controversy. I hadn’t thought it was gratuitous, because it was clearly going to motivate a male character to rescue her. But 2015 wound up being an interesting year for this kind of storytelling device. That was the year you had things like Room, Jessica Jones, Mad Max 4, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Stories that primarily explored the effect assault had on women as characters, not on women as a means to force men into action. Game of Throne S5 wound up looking pretty tone deaf, so what chance does Back to the Future have? I say all this not really to criticize, more to just lay out why I’m not here to judge a movie from 1985 for employing a trope I myself didn’t give any thought to until 2015.

That all said, does this scene need attempted rape in order to work? In terms of the construction of the movie… yeah, it kind of does. Lorraine’s interest in Marty has been established, as has Marty’s belief that his Mom is the kind of person who doesn’t like being taken advantage of, so he builds his plan around that. And when George finds Biff in the car instead of Marty, and is told to walk away, he’s given the opportunity to win back his future wife and triumph over his nemesis in one fell swoop. Marty’s plan was doomed to fail because of Lorraine’s (initial) attraction to him, so if Biff hadn’t tried to force himself on her, George wouldn’t have had an opportunity to step up and the McFly children would have been doomed.

So then it becomes a question of this; how well written, well acted, and well executed does a sequence need to be to justify depicting rape or near rape? Particularly in an otherwise lighthearted adventure film like this? Do such scenes exist? And if so, is this one of them? It’s a question I don’t really have the answer for, but it’s one I’d love to talk about.

The Big Picture. This whole George vs. Biff showdown is an interesting example of a character arc proceeding emotionally, not chronologically. George doesn’t know this, but we in the audience realize that Biff has been George’s tormentor for 30 years. This moment has more significance to us than it does to George in this moment.

Marty is unambiguously the protagonist of Back to the Future, but he doesn’t arc, really. George is the one who changes. Actually, aside from that silly thing in the sequels where Marty doesn’t like to be called chicken every now and then, he doesn’t change that much at all. Part 1 is George’s journey, Part 2 is Biff’s, Part 3 is Doc’s.

Live Reactions
1:17:15 – Oh what was I saying earlier, George DOES awkwardly dance in this movie. There were two movies in the mid 80s about Crispin Glover awkwardly dancing.

1:18:10 – How much did we know about alcoholism in the 80s?

1:18:47 – “Don’t nobody go nowhere.” Ask me to try and parse this sentence out if you ever want to see blood dribbling out of my ear.

1:18:58 – I’m taking this for granted by now, but Crispin Glover is such a weird actor. His takes are as big and broad as Christopher Lloyd’s, but they don’t make as much sense for that character.

1:18:59 – Can you imagine a scene between those two actors, actually?

1:20:18 – It actually is a genuine shock to see Biff here instead of George the first time. Helps that they both have white sleeves.

1:21:08 – Interesting how they stick such an obviously unacceptable moment; Biff’s gang calling a black guy a “spook” immediately after Biff grabs Lorraine. The writers are like “See, guys? It’s not us, it’s the 50s.”

1:22:16 – Whatever I said earlier, about both the subject of the scene and Crispin Glover, he plays the moment really well. The practiced, mock heroic “Hey you, get your damn hands off her” followed by the shakier, but more genuine “No Biff, you leave her alone” is a GREAT bit of acting.

1:22:19 – Never noticed that Biff had a cut on his lip from Marty’s punch earlier.

1:22:32 – Really not hard to believe that Biff becomes the villain that he is in Part 2 when you watch this scene.

1:22:54 – It doesn’t work out for her, but I do appreciate that the film at least gives Lorraine a chance to take a shot at Biff when he starts attacking George.

1:24:10 – Marty thinks things have been set right, but looks at the photo and sees his sister is gone. Then we cut to Doc and see that it’s 9:30. The stakes continue to be high and things are becoming ever more urgent, and it’s conveyed without Marty ever having to say something like “Why didn’t it work?” aloud. Visual information, gang.

Behind the Scenes
-Disney rejected the picture on the basis of this sequence. Moreso for the first part where Lorraine kisses Marty.

-In an original draft, George winds up becoming a boxer instead of a writer.

Action Level
Moderate.

Rating
Mixed


Chapter 16. “Johnny B. Goode” (1:24:38 – 1:31:12)

BttF 15

Logline: His destiny secured, Marty treats 1950s audiences to a brand new style of music.

The Sequence. I used to feel like punching Biff was the culminating moment of George’s character development, and then having to fend off one more random bully was one beat too many. Now I can see that it’s all well and good for George to be brave in this adrenaline fuelled moment in which the girl he likes is being threatened. Now he’s brave in a moment that (as far as he knows) has no life or death stakes, and goes ahead and kisses Lorraine. This is when he earns a better life for himself.

George pushing the bully, kissing Lorraine, and bringing Marty back to life is this triumphant, romantic moment in the film. Turns out when you watch the movie one sequence per day, it doesn’t play quite as strongly. The kiss happens early in the scene without much in the way of build, it only has impact directly on the heels of what’s come before. And I don’t say this as a criticism of the sequence, more just that when you’re filming and editing one scene at a time, you’re never sure what you have until every last piece is in place and you see the whole thing from beginning to end.

After that, the rock and roll is not really my thing, which is more just personal taste than anything. Again, a time travel movie can’t be plot plot plot every single moment, it’s got to have some fun (like the Joey Jailbird gag). If it led to some artificial contrivances (because Marty rocks out he’s late to the clocktower) I would have been more annoyed by it. But it’s this one off moment, and one that sets up a fun scene in BttF 2 to boot.

The Big Picture. It’s worth pointing out that George stands on his own feet without Marty’s help. Maybe even despite Marty’s help, considering how badly he was playing the guitar. His character development feels complete, and if there’s one character the sequels can get away with not having, it’s George.

I don’t want to question time travel logic too much, but why is the McFly family restored here, and not when George clobbers Biff? The kiss, and the McFly family, is a part of George’s future once he hits Biff.

Maybe it’s because it’s a more satisfying moment for Marty to be restored back to life as his parents kiss for the first time. Zemeckis and Gale are great at keeping consistent time travel rules, but they don’t sacrifice logic for what’s cinematic and satisfying.

Live Reactions
1:25:02 – What’s happening in the present right now? Is the McFly family just going through this nightmare in which the kids are fading out of existence one by one?

1:25:33 – It’s a dire moment, but the maniacal laughter of that kid who cuts in cracks me up so much.

1:26:32 – I think the biggest mistake BTTF 2 makes is to have the Marty of that film witness George and Lorraine kissing from another angle. I like that movie fine but chasing around a sports almanac doesn’t get you in the feels like the climax of Part 1, so why be reminded of it?

1:29:40 – Check out Mr. Strickland in the wide shot, just holding his ears and looking shocked. And George and Lorraine (somewhere in the middle of the shot) looking surprised but almost prideful.

Behind the Scenes
-I’d never even thought about this, but all of a sudden there’s a string section in “Earth Angel” to make the moment more romantic.

-To his credit Bob Gale doesn’t ignore the criticisms that the movie is racist for having Marty “invent rock ’n’ roll,” but he does brush them off. Rightfully so I think, considering Marty heard Johnny B Goode from Chuck Berry in the first place.

Action Level
Low.

Rating
Good

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