“ Suddenly, my town came to life”
Cover story by Wally Hirst
FANTILIGY (THE ART, THE FILM OF THE FANTASTIC)
Fantiligy issue 6: Back to the Future
October 15th 1985
I was 12 years old, living in the Sydney inner city suburb of Kogarah, whose visible architecture which follows the train station of railway parade stretches back to the 1880’s - but I did not notice this before October 15th. When I got out of the Hurstville Mecca movie theatre (a beautiful art deco cinema which is sadly no longer with us anymore) and followed the train line back home I looked above the shops of the day, Katies, Brashs, Susan and saw second floor establishments that read EST. 1880, Peach Chambers, Cobbler and Son, Blacksmith and co…suddenly my town came to life.
12 was the perfect age for such a masterpiece of film-making. It had the fantasy elements of time travel to reach the child and the teenage drama to satisfy the adolescent. My music had been new wave and I was starting to get into guitar playing and a little bit of metal, so the soundtrack was speaking to me. Add the love for cinematic score and you had the recipe for perfection. I purchased a Sanyo Walkman (I don't think AWA was available in Australia) and this soundtrack became a main stay.
Fashion was changing too. The hair era of the 70’s and 80’s was becoming more wet look 50’s. Levis 501’s, a Hanes T-shirt and Converse Chuck Taylors were what General Pants was sporting in their shop window and Back to the Future was showcasing such styles when Marty went back to the 1950’s.
I wanted to be Marty. I wanted to play Chuck Berry riffs as much as I wanted to play Van Halen’s Eruption, so to the guitar shop I went. Academically of course I was drawn between the School Sucks attitude of the young McFly but also drawn to the wonders of education espoused by the Doc. Socially, skateboarding was the thing and my best friend and I were prone to “doing a Marty” which was waiting in a car park and catching the back of cars (difficult to find, there was that summer a public service announcement featuring Michael J. Fox lecturing us young ones about the dangers of such a stunt. I got the white Nikes with the red swoosh (Could only find the canvas version, not the leather.)
I even purchased the George Gipe novel of the film and read it in the space of a week. Back then all you needed was the book and the music and you had an out of body experience that straight to DVD does not offer these days. Back then, you would lie on the trampoline in the evening, gaze at the canopy of stars and relive the story.
The interest in the 1950’s also led me to an exploration of post war cinema. This is where the retro-file began. I would look for actors wearing Converse or 501’s and would debate if it were Lee Jeans Brando and Dean wore or 501’s. At this time fantastic retro styled 501 commercials were on TV and you could buy James Dean and Marilyn Monroe MDF backed posters.
I am not exaggerating the effect Back to the Future had on my formative years. Fans often wonder why Star wars fandom was neglected after Return of the Jedi, it was not Star Wars fatigue, more becoming a teen. I often wonder, if we the generation X that were born in the early 70’s were the target market of Hollywood marketing, as the film diet seems to reflect our chronology.
I can enjoy the sequels but the first film is arguably one of the 10 best, if not 5, films of all time. The kernel of the idea was bullying/family nostalgia. It was controversial stuff, a very poignant grey area that the succeeding entries did not have. Maybe they came out too late, I was finishing high school upon their release, but there is no denying that the first entry is a totally different experience. The point of this article is to relay the experience of “being there”. To me BTTF was the ultimate example of a being there experience. It affected every area of my life and it is a dream state movie that I have never and hopefully never awake from.