J is for...Johnny B Goode, by Chuck Berry / Marvin Berry & The Starlighters
"Woah...Rock 'n' Roll."
The very first line of Back To The Future. Can you think of a better first line in a movie? (Actually, The Wild Bunch's "If they move - kill 'em" is a close contender) For all the credit the Back To The Future movies get, they still don't get enough. Certainly not the first movie, which by my estimation is about as perfect a piece of popular art as has ever been produced by the Hollywood machine. Mind-bogglingly well-constructed, sublime lead performances, an endlessly quoteable script, a concept (time-travelling Delorean) so insanely, gloriously B-Movieish it's a wonder the movie ever got made, masses to say about the development of pop youth culture from the 50s Dawn Of The Teenager to the Mtv 80s, and with a love of Rock And Roll at it's heart, Back To The Future is the teen-adventure movie in excelsis. And smart? Like a fox.
.1. In 1985, the McFly family are enjoying a re-run of an old Honeymooners episode entitled 'The Man From Space'.
.2. In 1955, the Baines family are watching this episode's TV debut. Marty causes some confusion by stating that he's already seen this episode, calling it "a classic - Ralph dresses up as a man from space," and attempts to explain that he must have seen a "re-run."
.3. In the next scene, Marty and Doc are shown 're-running' the video camera footage Marty shot at Twin Pines Mall on a TV set. The notion of 're-running' situations, events and images is common to the whole trilogy, but finds it's purest expression here, where an earlier scene from the film is actually repeated on television, becoming a re-run.
.4. Marty, dressed in a radiation suit, is himself mistaken for a Man From Space earlier in the movie, and later dons the suit again to deliberately impersonate an alien.
I just think this is massively impressive; post-modern without being smart-alecy, it deals with complex ideas in a fun way, and totally integrates them into the story.
Uh...I was meant to be talking about Johnny Be Goode, wasn't I?
For people of a certain age, Marty's performance of this song at the end of BTTF defined their adolescent understanding of what Rock and Roll IS. "It's a blues riff in B, watch me for the changes, and try to keep up" is the only way anybody should ever introduce any song, regardless of whether it's actually a blues riff in B or not. The escalation of Marty's wild abandon as the spirit of rock and roll electrifies his soul, duck-walking, amp-kicking and Hendrix-wailing across the Hill Valley High School stage, remains one of the truly great celluloid evocations of pop music's almighty power. Lots of movies have great soundtracks, but few get pop music in the way BTTF does, or have done as much to engender a love of it in its audience. Like much of Berry's work, Johnny B Goode is a song about rock and roll, making it the perfect choice for this scene. From a film characterised by unparalleled attention to detail, you would expect nothing less.