This week fans of Back to the Future were sad to learn of the death of actress Elsa Raven. While she was far from a household name, Raven had one of the more memorable moments in Back to the Future as the lady looking for donations to save the Hill Valley clock tower. Her role is only a few seconds long, but it's important to the film and based on the reaction to her death, Elsa Raven meant a lot to fans. Back to the Future screenwriter Bob Gale says she was just as important to the movie as any other performer.
Bob Gale recently told THR that while Elsa Raven may not have been an A-list actress as far as celebrity, she was still an A-list performer, and the fact that her small role in Back to the Future is so well remembered is proof of that. He also credits director Robert Zemeckis for casting Raven, which was a decision he felt was as important as any other casting decision for the film. According to Gale...
She was one of those A-list performers who could turn a small role into a memorable one. Although she is on screen for probably less than a minute, everyone remembers her. And casting her is an example of director Bob Zemeckis's philosophy that every role is important and can be made memorable.
Elsa Raven appears early in Back to the Future where she interrupts a romantic moment between Marty and Jennifer looking for donations to save the historic clock tower. You can check out the scene below.
While Elsa Raven certainly has a presence in the scene that's hard to ignore, the other thing about the role is actually remarkably important to the movie. Her speech about what happened to the clock tower, and even the flyer she hands Marty, become key aspects of the plot, and Bob Gale says that part of what makes Raven's scene so great is that she's able to dump a lot of important exposition on the audience in a way that's still incredibly entertaining. Gale goes on...
Elsa communicates some key exposition in our movie which the audience needs to know, and it takes a great actress and a great director to make that come across in an entertaining way.
And she does just that. It's likely that most people watching Back to the Future the first time barely noticed all the details they were being given because the exchange is funny. It's only later, when the importance of a lightning strike comes into the plot, that everything that the clocktower lady said becomes important, and that flyer she handed him, and that we'd otherwise forgotten about, becomes key to the rest of the story.