Friday, August 7, 2009

John Hughes 1950 - 2009

So another 80s icon has crossed the bar, albeit one much less known than Michael Jackson. John Hughes will probably be remembered mostly for making the highest grossing comedy ever (still!) with Home Alone, which is kind of unfortunate, because the man had a handle on adolescence like no one else I have encountered. Now, that may because I haven't been a teenager for a helluva lot of years and I don't pay a lot of attention any more, but as I told my mates earlier this evening, in many ways, John Hughes' movies helped to define my youth.

I'm not just talking about The Breakfast Club either, although that is probably his best film and it holds up pretty well for a 'youth film' that will be a quarter century old next year (feelin' old much yet?), but you can see a lot of the same themes covered in his earlier 'throwaway' teen comedies like Sixteen Candles. Like the borders and cliques that tend to both describe and define us in high school, and how they can be both accurate and misleading. Or introducing me to both Oingo Boingo and John Cusack.

Music in general was always a strong part of the Hughes portfolio, and he said he always just added music he liked at the time. Simple Minds and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark can credit a big portion of their success to appearing on his movie soundtracks, and I can't imagine buying a Yello album (let alone four and some e.p.s) without having heard "Oh Yeah" in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Now, that's a movie in criminal need of a soundtrack album: The Beatles right next to "March of the Swivelheads" by The English Beat, are you kidding me?

I love the fact that the cool or popular people in Sixteen Candles are not just ciphers or worthless foils to be duped or humiliated like in most movies like this. At the end, you are pretty happy when Jake falls for whatever Molly Ringwald's character's name is. That's not how it's supposed to play out! Her and Farmer Ted are supposed to get together! And Jake's old girlfriend is supposed to get dropped in a pile of manure or have a pot of chili wreck her prom dress or something, she isn't supposed to learn humility by drunkenly making out with Anthony Michael Hall and then admitting she liked waking up being held by him! Sheesh.

Later on, sure, there is plenty of comeuppance for the in crowd. Robert Downey Jr. gets some Costco sized servings of humble pie in Weird Science, for instance. (Even watching him in Iron Man, I can still hear him shrieking "I'm pissing in my pants!" while the room shakes.) But rather than playing nothing but the 'outsiders are people too' card, Hughes could say the same thing about popular kids and still be sincere about it.

Look at the characters in The Breakfast Club: there was no single person I really identified with, but I've felt underappreciated and gifted like the brain, I've felt privileged and burdened like the athlete, I've felt worthless like the criminal, I've judged people like the princess and I've stood apart or been the butt of a joke like the basket case. We probably all have, and I am pretty sure that's the point, but what other teen movie did something like that? If you want further evidence, consider the fact that Emilio Estevez was originally cast as Bender, the 'criminal', but they had difficulty casting Andrew, the jock, so Estevez agreed to do it, which freed up the role of Bender for Judd Nelson.

So while John Hughes may have gone on to bigger things later in his career, I can't say they were better, but at least he left a body of work that, despite the temporal and insular mature of its subject matter, was not only sincere and insightful, but above all, entertaining.

Brian Johnson: Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you're crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain...
Andrew Clark: ...and an athlete...
Allison Reynolds: ...and a basket case...
Claire Standish: ...a princess...
John Bender: ...and a criminal...
Brian Johnson: Does that answer your question?... Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.

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