Scene Unseen:
Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Film  The other day on the prompting of another weblog I downloaded a parody of Star Wars and the Mike Judge film Office Space. The expectantly titled Office Space Wars is a fairly funny addition to the ongoing list of fan films which bring the props of the Lucas universe to another film (the best of these is TROOPS following a couple of Imperial Stormtroopers as they play clear up to the mess Luke Skywalker is leaving on Tattoine in the style of reality show COPS). These Wars moments are nothing new and unusually, it's the professional film makers who began this trend. Since A New Hope made its debut, references have appeared all over. Mel Brook's Spaceballs is one long skit. But for me, it's the subtler moments which work the best - the verbal reference (see Kevin Smith's entire career) or props which appear long enough to register and is gone. How unexpected was it to see a Star Wars party in the middle of Woody Allen's Celebrity?

This moment from Ferris Bueller's Day Off is my favourite. Bueller, having talked his best friend Cameron to cut school and to lend him his father's car ('1958 Ferrari 250 GTS California. Less than a hundred were made') for a spin in the city with his girlfriend Sloan. Understanding that such an automobile will slow them down in the big city, and completely against Cameron's better judgment, they drop the car at a midtown garage for the duration of the visit. We can tell something is up because of the sheer politeness of the attendant. This borne out as the friends walk away, completely missing the attendants leaving the garage at high speed behind, cheering as they go. It's a hilarious moment and unusually for a comedy moment has serious consequences for the ending of the film. Laugh made, plot point gained.

But the sheer genius of the film means that things aren't left hanging. Later as Mr Rooney, Bueller's headteacher attempts to break into his student's house to get to the bottom of his absence, we cut away . . . and the opening bars of John William's Star Wars score fill the speakers as the underside of the Ferrari engulfs the screen, much like the star destroyer at the beginning of A New Hope. It's in slow motion and like that tool of the Imperial forces seems to go on forever. Cut to the attendants utter joy painted across their faces as they take it for the leap it was meant for; back then to the original shot at the car speeds at light speed into the distance, the score winding down as they become a spot on the horizon.

The reason that's its one of the best references is that is works on more than one level. The problem with something like Spaceballs is that you generally have to know the trilogy fairly well to find it amusing. Here the moment is hilarious even if you missed A New Hope, but there are other resonances if Lucas has touched you. For non-fans, as well as the flying car, there is the look on the faces of the attendants doing what any car or even non-car person I'm sure would love to do; but there is also the thought of Cameron's reaction when he finds out what's been happening to his dad's car in his absence and how Ferris is going to weazle himself out of this one. The positioning of that opening shot will impress fans of the trilogy (quick question if Doctor Who fans are 'Whovians' and Star Trek fans are 'Trekkers' or 'Trekkies', what are Star Wars fans?). There is also a retro-cool for cineastes in seeing one of film's genuine character men Richard Edson (who three years before was the lead in classic Jim Jarmusch indie film Stranger Than Paradise) in such a small but significant role in one of the classic films of the 1980s. Name me another Star Wars reference in a movie which has all of that...

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