Friday, August 7, 2009
A TRIBUTE TO JOHN HUGHES
I have to admit it, I was late to the entire John Hughes thing. Not because I didn't know about them, I was a teenager of the eighties I had no choice but to know about them. It was more because I didn't realize how good John Hughes was at what he was doing nor did I understand at 15 the social impact of his films. When Sixteen Candles first came out I refused to see it, mainly because all the cool kids were lining up to go see it. I sat at home with my stacks of comic books and ignored that it was even a movie.
Then a girl who I liked (who of course didn't like me) asked if I wanted to go with her and some friends to see it. The power of possible boobage will overrun any ethical boundaries you've set for yourself, especially at 15. When I walked out of the movie I wasn't pissed but I was confused. What had I just seen? The nerd girl gets the hot guy, the nerd guy gets the hot girl, what was this bullshit?
In my world of saber rattling and soapbox dwelling we didn't want to be part of their world, they were the enemy! Who were they to lower themselves to date us? The two nerds should've gotten together because that's what needed to happen. I wasn't totally outraged though, only enough that when I was done venting I never heard from that girl again.
My true source of outrage came from The Breakfast Club which I saw as a horrid propaganda movie about conformity. I'm not going to go into the plot because I'm 99% sure that those who read my blog have seen the movie or at least know about it. At the end of the film the rebel who has raged against the rich preppy popular girl is happy when they become an item.
The basket case girl really only finds happiness after the preppy girl plows her with makeup and she becomes more "popular pretty" and gets the jock guy as a boyfriend. Then there's the nerd who gets nothing but the chance to do everybody's in-detention assignment and for some reason he's AMPED on that. Oh man I walked out of that movie like a Al Sharpton in front of a video camera, out to bring down hellfire and brimstone on all of those who enjoyed The Breakfast Club.
I have to be honest being in a high school like Dwight where the kids were quoting the movie and seeing it 4 and 5 times was heavy going for a non-fan. I wasn't the best at avoiding confrontation anyway but this made me a target as soon as I walked through the door. I was the one kid who didn't like The Breakfast Club and I would need to be expunged like a virus from the healthy cells of high school.
From then on my hatred of John Hughes movies grew and grew. I hated what a cunt Ferris Bueller was to Cameron, I couldn't stand the bullshit ending of Pretty In Pink and finally I just decided that John Hughes and I had nothing more to say to each other. To be honest I continued to have stuff to say but Hughes remained oddly silent.
It was a few years later before I gave John Hughes another chance with Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Not when it was released in theaters but when it came out on....GASP...VHS. I friend of mine had rented it and forced me to sit there and watch it with him. By the end of the movie I was red faced and crying from laughing so hard. I literally laughed out loud from the Taxi cab race between Kevin Bacon and Steve Martin to the end which really actually touched me.
I remember my friend saying "Dude John Hughes kicks ass" and wanting to believe him but being scared. By then I had raged for so long about him that if I turned around and said I was wrong I'd been seen as a liar. You have to understand to the young adult mind you know everything already so admitting your wrong is like telling the world you were rooting for the Nazis...you just couldn't do it.
That's one of the great things about growing up, you realize that you will often be wrong and that admitting that is a sign of character as is the ability to change your mind. A few years after watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles for the first time a small arthouse theater was running a double feature of The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles so I decided to go. I went alone and sat ready to be confirmed that while he may write a witty adult movie his teenage films were bullshit.
What happened startled me.
I fell in love with those movies and by the end of the double feature I couldn't believe how stupid I had been. These hadn't been propaganda movies about conformity, these had been films by and large rooted in reality. Hughes wasn't making high school movies the way we wanted it to be but the way it was. Most kids who freaked out about not wanting to be part of the popular crowd secretly did, most kids who acted the freak did it because the felt unloved.
I was even moved by Molly Ringwald's princess speech about hating her friends. Even I who had raged about individuality all through high school had wanted to be in the in crowd or at least wanted them to want me so I could turn my nose up at them. The fact that they just didn't want me was painful as was the non stop teasing.
After the movies I rented all the John Hughes films and began to understand how good he was at finding the humanity in the most mundane situations. From a filmmakers perspective he was one of the first to really say "Hey let's pull the veil back from the image of uber happy suburbia and see what's really happening". Hughes had meant for Ferris to be a jerk because it made us look at ourselves and why we'd champion a guy like him.
I doubt there was ever a greater outsider/misfit character than Ducky from Pretty In Pink which got a second chance from me after I discovered that Molly Ringwald had forced the i-end-up-with-rich-guy ending and Hughes had wanted her to stay with Ducky originally.
Sure Sixteen Candles still wasn't a great movie but Hughes was cutting his teeth on that film and I'll say this, it has more to say and stands up better than just about every teen film today. I also firmly believe that without the Hughes teenage movies the entire indie-melancholy-teen-angst field that's happening today would never have been born.
With my new love of Hughes I delved into all of his stuff and found most of it really enchanting. Weird Science became my personal favorite because that was a stone cold perfect look at my friends and I at that age. I never did latch on to Some Kind Of Wonderful mainly because it seemed like a reverse Pretty In Pink but what the hell nobody is perfect.
Outside of Planes, Trains and Automobiles (and maybe Uncle Buck) my love affair with Hughes ended with his early movies. I was never a fan of the Vacation films and even less of the Home Alone movies and most of his written work post 1990 left me cold. It wasn't bad work it just wasn't the stuff he'd done before.
At the ripe old age of 38 the John Hughes teen movies make me nostalgic for a part of my life I couldn't wait to get out of. All the angst all the crap all the bullshit fades in time and you just remember that you were once that young. That your life was filled with possibilities and expectations and the world was your oyster. No matter how great your life is now you lose part of that as you get older. Life slaps you down, friends betray you, love is found and lost and that view point on life is tragically gone forever.
When reality, responsibility and grown up life start wearing on me I'll turn on those Hughes movies and escape to a time of neon colors, long coats, great pop music and bad fashion. It helps me remember a time when I wasn't so bitter and my cold shoulder wasn't the first thing I used to greet the world. Hughes did more than he probably ever hoped for with those original films and he touched more lives in more ways than he knew possible. I work with teens now and they watch those movies and feel like somebody relates to them. That's pretty powerful stuff the idea that though they were steeped in eighties style those movies spoke universally to any teenager going through the turmoil of....well...being a teenager.
For the films, the escape and the ability to learn more about myself I thank you John Hughes and I wish you great success in the next world.