by C.L. Phillips
While at a party this weekend, I found myself telling everyone about my new favorite movie, Super 8, released on June 10, 2011. Why is it my favorite? Because of its exquisite use of back story and single line dialog anchoring the scene and action in 1979.
I don't dare give away the movie premise, so I'll confine my comments to how the back story and dialog provided a richness and depth I don't often find in movies.
1) Gadgets - "Don't touch my C.B., man." - Doesn't that just scream the 70's to you? Sure does for me. "Breaker, breaker one-nine."
2) More gadgets - "It's called a Walkman, sherriff. You can listen to your own music." I wondered where they found a real Walkman. At the Smithsonian? Compare the size of the original Walkman to an ipod nano, and you'll appreciate how far the music business has changed in thirty years. I wonder what it will look like in thirty more years, in 2040. Music on your fingernail?
3) Hero back story - One of the heroes in the movie is a school teacher. We see his actions, but do not learn his background or motivation until most of the movie is over. The back story provides another level of emotional depth - one that I did not expect. Again, I don't want to give it away, but after that scene, I started cheering for the bad guy. Why? Because the bad guy wasn't bad, and the bad guy was behaving exactly as I would if I were in his circumstances. Now that's effective back story. And it was done with one simple line of dialog. "I felt what he felt." Of course, there were more words, but...you'll have to see the movie! :)
4) Visual back story - the picture of the businesses on main street - including a photo store with film processing. When was the last time you dropped off a roll of film? Or picked up a package of prints? As the camera panned down the street, I thought, "I buy that on Amazon, haven't bought that in twenty years, buy that at Walmart." The scene captured a time that is no more. Commerce that has evaporated into the network and the world of electronic payments and super stores.
So go see Super 8. Listen for the back story. Check your watch. None of it arrives until well past the half way point of the movie.
I plan to incorporate this lesson into my editing. I'm calling it SUPER 8. Backstory way back. Deep back.
What's your favorite example of well placed back story? Movie or book?