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Aug. 7 2009 - 11:13 am | 1,703 views | 1 recommendation | 5 comments

Why John Hughes mattered

John Hughes, with the cast of The Breakfast Club

John Hughes, with the cast of The Breakfast Club

If my recent post about the 1938 film, Bringing Up Baby, taught us anything, it’s that what we find funny shouldn’t be separated from when we found it funny in the first place. Otherwise… not so funny. Call it the time-laugh continuum.

Twenty-five years from now, when our children discover the airborne digital flakes of Judd Apatow, and snort them into their cortex or whatever it is the little porn-addicted jouvie criminals are up to then, they’ll probably wonder what all the fuss was about.

So either not enough time has passed yet, or he’s an exception to the rule, but it’s been twenty-five years now since Sixteen Candles, and John Hughes is still funny. He might be gone, too suddenly, but he’s still freaking funny. And few other filmmakers so, like, totally own their era the way he, like, totally owns the 80’s. Hughes pretty much created what we found funny for a good ten years. But his films were more than just funny. To a young outcast in the 80’s, his movies were wish-fulfillment armor. We could don the armor and, if not actually be safe from our teenage fears, we could at least feel safe.

With National Lampoon’s Vacation in ‘83, Hughes’ first big film was the perfect vehicle to take us from those dusty 70’s side roads onto the sparkling 80’s superhighway (which at the time seemed endless). It was only one of four films he wrote and/or directed in two years. The man was young and hungry. That’s a film every six months! And all this before Red Bull, people. Before Starbucks. The guy had to make his own coffee!!

Sixteen Candles, his directorial debut, landed the next year, in ‘84. It made unlikely stars of Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall (the Charlyne Yi and Michael Sera of their time?) and helped people like John and Joan Cusack and Jami Gertz break into the bid’ness. A lot of people think the movie is a fairy tale of true love. I think it’s a film about a rich asshole bullying a poor family into handing over their helpless virgin for his perverted kicks. But hey.

The Breakfast Club followed the next year, a seminal film (especially if you were in high school at the time), then Weird Science, Pretty In Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, another seminal film, and all this in three years. Three years! Had Hughes died then, in ‘87, he’d be buried next to Jimmy Hendrix in Paris. He’d still own the 80’s, maybe even more so than he does now. There’d be a national campaign to rename the 80’s the Hughesies.

Hughes kept up his ridiculous pace. You would have thought he was a teenager himself. Such energy! He wrote European Vacation, produced and wrote Christmas Vacation, and wrote and/or directed Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, Some Kind of Wonderful, She’s Having a Baby, The Great Outdoors, Uncle Buck and, to round it all out in 1990, as if he hadn’t quite nailed it yet (or made enough cash), Home Alone.

So yes, no question, let’s just go ahead and call the decade the Hughesies. I find it interesting to look at the bookends: National Lampoon’s Vacation and Home Alone. If Vacation was a prescient vehicle in which to leave the 70’s forever, Home Alone was just as apt a farewell to the 80’s. It ushered in a new kind of comedy that we’ve only recently shoved aside for something else (penis!).

And Hughes didn’t stop there. He might have fallen off the radar of the people who knew him mainly for his high school quartet. 1991’s Curly Sue may have been his last film as a director, but Hughes the producer, and Hughes the prolific writer, kept up the factory-like production of hits (mostly). In ‘92 he began writing at times under the pseudonym Edmond Dantes, scripting the successful, if insipid, Beethoven series (collect all 5!) which, if nothing else, got Charles Groden paid for a while. Not a bad thing. But Dantes was also responsible for Maid in Manhattan and Drillbit Taylor. Let’s just call the whole period Dantes’ Infernal and forget he ever existed, somewhere deep inside the savant manchild we know and remember as John Hughes.

I like to think that Ed Rooney’s secretary in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was really talking about Hughes that day. “The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.”

We think you’re a righteous dude, John. I hope wherever you’re sitting right now has a typewriter. And a fridge full of Red Bull.


One T/S Member Comment Called Out, 5 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    Mike, again, this a set of movies that defined a generation, but not mine. I’ll give his stuff a look, if only to enjoy a good movie. Thanks dude.

    • collapse expand

      If it’s not your generation you might be a little bored by them (the “what’s all the fuss about?” reaction), but I’d love to know what you thought about FB’s Day Off or Breakfast Club. The latter was so iconic that a recent documentary about high school (American Teen) recreated the original poster to a T, but with the real life subjects.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    To the original commenter, I’d offer this: Green Day, for instance, might be the best band you’ve ever heard, but if you’ve never heard the Clash or Minor Threat, then you’re not seeing (or hearing) the bigger picture. Without John Hughes, there’s no teen movie or television market, beyond the exploitative Porky’s-style genre.

  3. collapse expand

    Mike, once I give them a watch, I’ll let you know what I think. Right now I know them as iconic, cultural touchstones for an entire generation. Makes me wonder what those movies will be for my generation. Thoughts?

    • collapse expand

      At best they’ll be an entertaining glimpse that offers you some understanding of what all the fuss was about (at least for some of them). At worst, they’ll have you shaking your head and feeling far older than you ever thought possible (of course I hope it’s the former)! At least, as a bonus, you’ll likely see the original context for some oft-repeated catch phrases. “So THAT’S the way it is in their family.”

      And if you do find yourself watching FBDO, and bored, think about this recent question I dug up on the web: “Is Ferris really just Cameron’s very own Tyler Durden” (some familiarity with Fight Club is necessary to get the reference).

      Good luck!

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    According to my mother, I've quit more jobs than most people have ever had. In addition to "Closely Watched," I contribute film centric writing to Nylon and Nylon Guys magazines and "Inside Movies" over at Moviefone.com. Before the internet existed, I lived in Cali, dabbled in film, and rode tacos trucks. My films have been seen at Cannes, Seattle, Telluride, LA and other festivals, and are available on DVD, iTunes and select airplanes. My fiction has appeared in Zoetrope All-Story Magazine, Mississippi Review, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals. Follow me on Twitter! It's fun!


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    Closely Watched is on hiatus

    Closely Watched will be on hiatus for the summer. Thanks to everyone who’s made this page what it is. While I’m gone, all the posts will remain available and comments will be addressed (though perhaps not in a super timely fashion). See you again soon!