Monday, August 10, 2009

Movie Mondays: John Hughes

I was saddened to learn of the death of director John Hughes. Since his passing a few weeks ago, I've read a number of obits filled with first-hand accounts of how Hughes impacted lives, both personally and professionally. But my Pavlovian association to any mention of John Hughes is an immediate regress to the holy cinematic quintet of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful.

For me, to remember John Hughes is to remember not so much the direct impact of his films but more how my life revolved around them at the time. The things I did - with able assists from friends and my sister - during them or because of them still resonate as some of the better moments of adolescence. My eulogy for John Hughes, therefore is to recall some of those moments in association to the Hughes movie that inspired them.

1. Sixteen Candles: Oh, how much did we desperately want Michael Schoefflling to show up on our sixteenth birthdays and whisk us away?! Didn't happen. Shocking, I know. The first of many teenage disappointments I learned to live with. As usual, it's the quotes that stay with me such as "What's happening hot stuff?", "Automobile?" and "Lake. Big lake", and so many more.

I think the scene where Joan Cusack is wearing a brace (was it mouth gear or a body brace? I can't remember) and attempting to drink from a water fountain is a snapshot example of Hughes' uncanny ability to show teenage dilemma. It's a small but brilliant moment of an awkward teen already singled out for looking different, alone, mostly friendless, desperately trying to appear casual while talking herself through the difficult-for-her experience of drinking from a water fountain. Which of us has never similarly bluffed our way through a socially awkward teen experience? Hell, that's me just getting out of the car and into the office building some mornings. It's OK, Krum. Just in the door and down the hall, there's a nice cold Coke waiting for you. You can get through this morning, really. Here it's pathos and humor beautifully and heart-tweakingly sewn together, a quintessential John Hughes trait.

2. Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Reportedly, music was always an important component for Hughes in crafting his movies. It's fitting then that my biggest association with this movie is the memory of sitting in the top row at the Millburn Theater with MD so we could get up and dance to Twist and Shout. For me, there is no Danke Schoen without Ferris Bueller (sorry Wayne Newton) and I will forever associate the tune Oh Yeah with Jeffrey Jones' long denouement down the school bus aisle.

Though speech writing for Nixon is only one of his many impressive accomplishments, I will always associate Ben Stein with the immortal, deadpan delivery of "Anyone? Anyone?" and "Bueller? Bueller?". Like Star Wars quotes (they really do apply to nearly every situation in life, but that's another post) I find myself rolling this one out almost without conscious decision into appropriate moments regardless of professional or personally situation.

It's sad, I know, but I still do Cameron's version of "swing, batta, batta, batta" when I'm at a baseball game, though I don't limit it to baseball because that would be boring. This movie was fun, a joyous dream of our heartfelt desire to blow off school and have an adventure. As Ferris says, Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

3. The Breakfast Club: I think of all his films, this is the one that is remembered as Hughes' best, unequivocally the best high school film ever. A youth pastor friend of mine maintains that this is the best example of what it's like to be a teenager. For years he'd tell his staff to watch it as sort of a training video for youth work, though I'm sure it'll never be found in the church cannon.

My then best friend and I would write quotes from The Breakfast Club on torn scraps of paper, furtively passing them back and forth in what I think was French class. While scanning the IMDB page, I was struck at once at how many Breakfast Club lines were still in my lexicon.

So it's sorta social, demented and sad, but social.
Answer the question, Claire.
Being bad feels pretty good, huh?
You mess with the bull, you get the horns.

And while nearly everyone quotes that last great voice-over kiss off as the ultimate summation for this film, I prefer this one: We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all.

4. Pretty in Pink: I have a sharp memory of bitching a teenager's angst long and too loud with my best friend over dinner in a Secaucus strip mall, feeling so grown up, before going to see Pretty in Pink - again. We slipped into the back of the theatre to watch the closing scenes of the showing before ours because we just couldn't get enough of that final romantic embrace. Also? That ridiculous tux Blane is wearing to the prom? Twenty years later, it's still ugly.

That same best friend and I heartily wished we could make clothes as awesome as Andie's prom dress. We thought Annie Potts rocked and loved watching Ducky embody Otis Redding. I've heard tell that Jon Cryer improved the immortal line "Blane? That's the name of a major appliance! That's not a name!"

We loved the music, we adored the Romeo and Juliet angst, we thought James Spader's girlfriend was a t
otal skank, and we wanted a best friend like Ducky who sticks to his Duckman shoes even at the prom. And to this day, I can't see a Carmengia and not immediately flash onto Pretty in Pink. Demented and sad, but sorta social.

5. Some Kind of Wonderful: OK - I'm including this one for my sister. I've never been gung-ho about SKOW, but she loves it unconditionally. We used to passionately argue whether Some Kind of Wonderful was better than Pretty in Pink and, more importantly, whether Andrew McCarthy was cuter that Eric Stolz. I like the parts that don't have anything to do with the girls, the detention scenes and anything involving Duncan and his delinquents is always good for a laugh. I guess my penchant for the bad boys was broiling even then. And Hardy? (Good grief, where did Hughes get these names? The Preppy Handbook?) Hardy's final comeuppance is a marvel of cathartic revenge.

I'll confess, like any girl with a pulse at that time, I swooned over the closing lines: You look good wearing my future. But I didn't find Amanda Jones particularly worthy of all the adoration and I wasn't as charmed w
ith tough girl/smart ass Watts as I gather I was supposed to be. And never, not even then, not for one moment, could I understand unloading a college fund on diamond earrings and the perfect date for a girl who barely gives you the time of day. You do NOT spend that kind of money on a girl - especially not when you're seventeen. At least use it to pay for art school! Jackass.

Once, all of this and more was incredibly important to me. Now, it's a fond footnote from a tumultuous period, one it's good to reflect on and remember, but boy howdy, not to return to evah again. It's sad that it took a good man's death to remind me of how very much I like and once passionately loved John Hughes' best films.

RIP John Hughes, you neo maxi zoom dweebie.

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