WHERE: In the living room of my apartment in Portland, ME (Isla Nublar)
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Just woke up, eating a breakfast burrito, no real plans to speak of.
No major character arc or theme in Back to the Future struck me significantly during this viewing, so I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight a performance that I’ve been enjoying consistently week after week: George DiCenzo as Lorraine’s father, Sam Baines.
We first meet Sam when he rams his vehicle into Marty McFly and shouts, “Stella! Another one of these damn kids jumped in front of my car!” This always made me laugh when I was younger; what kind of grumpy asshole thinks neighborhood children are deliberately hopping into the road just for kicks?
If Sam were a dad today, he’d accuse Lorraine of smoking nutmeg.
Now that I’m watching Back to the Future weekly for science, I’ve come to appreciate a more subtle aspect of Sam’s character: he just bought a new television set and nobody at the dinner table will shut the hell up. It’s like a miniature movie-within-a-movie about a man who just dropped a sizable chunk of his paychecks on the latest in entertainment technology and not a single member of his family will give him the silence to enjoy his new purchase. Join me, will you? The year is 1955…
From the very moment we see the new TV, we can tell Sam is obsessed with it. When Sam’s wife Stella implies that he should apologize for car-punching Marty into pavement, Sam just chastises the kid for being in the street and goes back to hooking up the TV. Nothing will take him away from his precious magic box.
“If I miss The Honeymooners over this, I will cut you.”
Sam smiles exactly once in the entire film: when he finally gets the picture working.
And even then, it’s a very frowny smile.
Now, I’m here to praise George DiCenzo’s acting, but it’s worth noting that Sam’s infatuation with the set is even represented in the shot composition. Notice that the TV and Sam are dead center, his eyes fixed on the screen, while his family members surrounding him are engaged in active conversation. The television looms in the foreground, almost sinister. This single frame serves as a harbinger for the changing shape of the family unit.
The Last Supper Anyone Talks During
Once he’s settled in, he’s hooked. While everyone else discusses how they can help Marty find a place to stay, Sam is in his own world. It’s as though his family isn’t even there. At one point Lorraine mentions how Sam almost killed Marty with his car, and he isn’t phased in the slightest.
These are, in fact, two completely different frames.
Keep in mind that conversation is going on this entire time. Sam is not the focal point of the scene. He’s merely trying to enjoy The Honeymooners while everyone around him is delivering exposition. If you’re watching the movie for the first time, you mentally push him into the background while Marty and Milton gab about reruns. If you know the dialogue by heart, however, look past the others and notice just how pissed Sam is getting by all the chatter.
Come on, guys, it’s only going to be a viable medium for fifty more years.
Sam has lines, by the way. He’s not completely oblivious to the dinner table discussions. But does he make eye contact when he speaks? Of course not.
He’s either giving directions or slapping his future grandson.
From the moment he sits down through the remainder of his screentime, Sam only looks at whomever is speaking exactly twice… and both instances are death glares.
Is now a good time to mention that his favorite sitcom features repeated threats of spousal abuse?
It takes Marty’s table-thumping escape from a maternal handjob to finally break Sam from his hypnotic state, and even then, he just looks down, grabs another forkful of meatloaf, and returns to the cathode ray tube’s loving embrace.
The entire scene from Sam’s point of view.
It’s clear that the filmmakers always wanted the introduction of television to the family dinner to be woven into the movie’s themes. In an earlier scene (you know, time travel and all), we see the effects of this cultural change on the McFly household in 1985. Just to drive home the permanence of television’s impact on society, it’s the exact same show and the exact same episode.
“Pssst, we’re over here, Dad.”
Subtextual themes on the media’s destruction of the domestic establishment aside, Sam is just a hell of a lot of fun to watch. I have no idea if Robert Zemeckis gave George DiCenzo a 45-minute pep talk on the invasive nature of television or if he just said, “Eat, stare, repeat.” Either way, DiCenzo’s performance is brilliant and shouldn’t be missed.
George DiCenzo 1940-2010
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to drop everything and watch this movie over and over and over again.