Authors: Andrew Shail and Robin Stoate

Publisher: British Film Institute (August 17, 2010)

ISBN-10: 1844572935:  ISBN-13: 978-1844572939

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The British Film Institute Classics are not a series of comprehensive overviews of significant movies nor coffee table editions for general interest readers.  They do not include extensive interviews with participants, repeat information more appropriate in People magazine or The Insider, but do provide tight, economical histories and analysis of movie production.  For example, Andrew Shail and Robin Stoate’s analysis of Back to the Future is but 96 pages of text and photos useful in classrooms devoted to film studies or would interest serious critics and professionals looking for technical details of camera work or, much more extensively, an academic review of a given movie’s place in popular culture.

Back to the Future clearly warrants such focused attention:  it was the top-grossing film of 1985, the eighth highest-grossing film of the 1980s, and was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Original Screenplay in 1986.  Beyond its mass appeal and contemporary appreciation, Shail and Stoate set out to establish Robert Zemeckis, co-writer and producer, created a milestone in the “new New Hollywood” with enduring power and importance.

However, after their sufficient production history and examination of the editing techniques in the time travel scenes,  the authors dig into the cultural contexts of both the 1980s as well as the 1950s and offer often obviously debatable points.  Some are hard to argue: Back to the Future premiered during an era when teen movies were very much in vogue, and Back to the Future transcended this genre by adding in elements of science-fiction action-adventure. They successfully note the film was an attempt of a moviemaker in Reaganite America to re-define the 1950s in the cinematic cultural contexts of the ‘80s.

Then, they discuss the place of science, and science-fiction, in the movies of the ‘80s compared to “The Atomic Age” before positing their claims about differences between the cultures of the two eras. They say the sexual potency of girls of the ‘50s had been lost by the time the “Family Values” ethos had made women, well, blander as evidenced by the character of Marty McFly’s mother, at least before the reverse Oedipal car scene gets her batteries going. But taking the moment when Marty introduces rock and roll and claiming this allowed white culture to usurp the importance of black contributions leaps well past credibility. Sometimes, a joke is just a joke.

 Then again, all these observations seem an intended part of the book’s purpose—to both inform and stimulate discussion. The detailed chapter references should point readers to other sources to see how the writers synthesized their often authoritative views. In other words, this is a book for libraries, grad students, those serious about the art of movie making.

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