so...what would you little maniacs like to do first?
it's been a while since i last posted something on here. strangely enough, the item that drew me back was John Hughes' passing. so much have been said about his death and his work in the last few weeks that, in reality, there isn't much left to say. but for me, as a writer and a filmmaker, that's not good enough. i make no bones about my insignificance in these fields compared to him, just that i owe the man a lot.
as a kid, i loved movies. i acted out movies. i made movies...1st with GI Joes and a VHS camera, then graduating to actual human stars in terrible parody or bizarre riff on some sort of pop culture subject. i think i always would have gravitated towards movies, but without the works of John Hughes i don't think i ever would have seen myself working or striving to succeed in that field.
the 1st film of his i saw was Sixteen Candles and i didn't get it. it was a funny movie with a lot of 'grown up' things for a kid of 10 to grasp...but again, on the base level, it was funny...i think part of it was the dorky kid reminded me of myself...
the rest of his films came in rapid succession as my adolescence approached...
Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off...This core of his early work really had an effect on me. again, in the beginning, they were simply funny. nothing more. then some became part of my family's video library, and heavily rotated on HBO or Showtime, and quoted by my friends at school and i. that latter part, without knowing what 'pot' was or why Anthony Michael Hall would need/want a girl's underpants at 10 or 11 made for hilarious jumps in logic by our brains.
anyway...i say all of this to provide scope.
these films as well as his others; Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, She's Having a Baby, and Uncle Buck, plus the ones he Produced: Some Kind of Wonderful, Pretty in Pink, and The Vacation Films, they did something drastically different than anything i had seen before...they took kids seriously. they made the stories of people just older than me dramatic. they allowed for levity and gravity. they put these kids in the real world, albeit with some heavy-handed nomenclature 'jocks, dweebs, etc'...but in all seriousness...as bizarre and weird as Weird Science gets, in the end it's about two kids who are trying (desperately so) to understand and engage members of the opposite sex. man's quest from that moment of puberty til the last foot enters the grave.
Hughes had a way of choosing the characters and stories that helped illuminate different ages and angsts for those ages...i mean even though i loathed it...Home Alone has some moments in it that Culkin really shines.
But finally, on the screen, you had high school kids who weren't stupid, horny, or nerdy. you had what felt like actual people who were in high school. he never put kid gloves or 'stupid goggles' on for the audience and for that we (as a generation of moviegoers) owe him a debt of gratitude.
"Set in a senior high school class, J.J. (Michael J. Fox) pursues the girlfriend of a rival from a higher clique which culminates in a race at the end of the movie between the two rivals in this light comedy."
that is the description of the 1983 'classic' High School USA starring Micheal J. Fox, Nancy McKeon, and Todd Bridges. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085679/ for complete memory lane flashbacks)
now look...i have fond memories of this film...what i vaguely remember is that Todd Bridges (nerd) helps his buddy Michael J. Fox (would-be cool guy) win the heart of a girl Nancy McKeon (popular girl) from Anthony Edwards (rich douche). this all culminates with some 'race' for the grand finale...and i think that Bridges' pet robot (yes, a robot) gets sacrificed to supe up whatever vehicle needs it to take team Fox over the top. um...what?
i mean they really made movies like this...they cranked them out in fact. put teens in glorious romp and BAM...teen comedy. don't get me wrong, i have a huge soft spot for any of these films, but i'm trying to address what Hughes did for film on larger scale than his own work.
John Hughes changed the game.
Hughes took young people from the trash heap of pop culture and actually had them talk to each other AND listen. he allowed them to have feelings in front of each other and to talk about those feelings to boot. in short, the guy wrote films for younger actors...not teen movies.
when i wrote my application to film school, I cited John Hughes and Cameron Crowe as my two biggest inspirations as a filmmaker and it was something (in the interview AND once accepted) that i was made to defend vehemently because Hughes didn't direct Citizen Kane or Rashomon or The Godfather Part III (it goes both ways).
i still fell like his work sits in a genre of its own. 'teen movies' have been and will always been around and be profitable...but 25 or so years later, Hughes' films are genuinely 'watchable'. dated? sure they are, but they succeed where other films fail in that they make a total and complete film. those others never sat down and tried to be anything different than an excuse to give young actors pocket money to blow all over Hollywood in the 80's. (High School USA i'm looking at you)
i will miss John Hughes.
i'll miss his talent but also i will miss him for very selfish selfish reasons too. i won't ever get to meet him. i won't get to talk to him. about his career and about his life and times within it.
yes, pipe dreams, but the guy is one of the few people who's simple eloquence in the work he left behind truly impresses me. in a film world largely filled with drivel and insensitive visual stimulation where douches like Sommers and Bay still live, it's a sin that John Hughes went home without the recognition he deserved.
sure, everyone knows his films...but their place in the pantheon should be more pronounced in my opinion. i know that he changed the game with his work and not everyone changed with him (see High School Musical...or rather DON'T)...but SOME changed with him and others grew from the seeds he planted.
Rest in peace John Hughes and thank your sensibilities, thank you for the work you did, and thank you for the work you made possible.
Below is an article by David Sirota who stretches and reaches to tie Hughes to politics...(and fails in my opinion)...but it's funny that a guy like Sirota is using Hughes and his characters after all these years. they're just that real and relevant i s'pose.
Truthdig - Reports - Don’t You Forget About John Hughes
Posted on Aug 13, 2009
By David Sirota
Confidence is a strange and elusive thing. As a nation, we clearly have it in this post-Vietnam age of chest-thumping invasions and flag-pin patriotism. But as humans, we are each, well, human. In our minds’ most secret caverns—those shadowy places that stiff upper lips, Botox and sports cars obscure—aplomb is often just a fleeting relief from more constant fear and loathing.
A country of human self-doubt birthing a nation of superhuman hubris—it’s not the paradox it seems. After all, the popular culture sustaining this oxymoronic reality revolves around exalting the impossibly gifted virtuoso, the against-all-odds champion, the Mount Rushmore-size megastar—in short, the larger-than-life individuals from Michael Jordan to Lance Armstrong to Ronald Reagan whom we know we cannot be.
While such deification drums up national pride, it also evokes the ugly feelings associated with personal insecurity, which is why I think so many mourned last week’s passing of John Hughes. The filmmaker, most well known in the 1980s, was one of the only contemporary artists who found success providing an uplifting antidote to those darker emotions—an antidote that is more relevant today than ever.
While Hughes’ works were marketed as one-off parables about teenage angst, they really make up a single catalog extolling something bigger—something that today’s infotainment teaches us to ignore: the intrinsic worth of the regular person.
Hughes created “National Lampoon’s Vacation”—a classic so intent on honoring the typical buffoonish-yet-loving father that its poster featured Clark Griswold as a Herculean colossus. With “Pretty in Pink,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” “Uncle Buck” and “Some Kind of Wonderful,” Hughes made films whose paladins weren’t aristocratic perfectionists, but working-class and decidedly flawed commoners. Even when Hughes went sitcom conventional with “She’s Having a Baby” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” he still produced plots forcing picket-fence protagonists to make do with—rather than magically transcend—their weaknesses.
Certainly, the demography of Hughes’ on-screen world was whiter and wealthier than the country he aspired to portray. And even devoted fans admit he occasionally dabbled in offensive stereotypes (examples: “Vacation’s” redneck caricature, Eddie, and its minstrel-show depiction of the inner city).
Yet, for all his blemishes, Hughes accomplished the seemingly impossible: At the very moment America was being conquered by the cult of the celebrity superhero, he ascended through films insisting that the rest of us mere mortals are not as weird, alienated or worthless as we’ve been implicitly led to believe.
This is a big reason why Hughes’ work remains as embedded in the American psyche—and therefore politically significant—as any recent cultural product. That includes even those ubiquitous Barack Obama T-shirts because in many ways, Hughes’ themes are central to today’s epic battle between hope and panic.
As economic crises compel us to confront debates about taxes, health care and the common good, the enduring hyper-individualist conservatism of the 1980s now chafes against a president with a very different vision. He asks us not to trust only in his individual skills and not to obsess over society’s differences, but instead to be confident in our own problem-solving talents and to remember that we all are in this together.
We are, indeed, watching Obama channel his fellow Chicagoan, Hughes. As if ordering the band to substitute “Don’t You Forget About Me” for “Hail to the Chief,” the president implores us, as “The Breakfast Club” said, to understand that “each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, and a princess, and a criminal”—that is, each one of us, however flawed, is of value.
The only question now is whether we will run with that Hughes ethos, or simply walk on by.
David Sirota is the best-selling author of the books “Hostile Takeover” (2006) and “The Uprising” (2008). Find his blog at OpenLeft.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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