Lately, I can’t believe how little time I have to write. I have been busy with some things at work, and haven’t had much time to think about anything but work. The 1989! post from the other day was purely motivated by stream of consciousness thinking. Looking back, I wish I posted something about John Hughes, who died Thursday morning of a heart attack in NYC.
Many of you know that already, and you also probably know (if you haven’t had your head in the sand), that Hughes was the director of some of the best films about Gen-Xers. He knew us better than we knew ourselves. He excelled at capturing the constant self-doubt and fears that adolescents experienced then, and continue to experience now. The biggest knocks on him were that he never had people of color as principal characters, and that he avoided getting too deep into problem behaviors.
For the latter, the Breakfast Club is the best example of how Hughes avoided difficult issues. In the Breakfast Club, every character reveals some moral/serious developmental challenge to every other character in the movie. Lots of tearful moments ensue, but these moments/admissions never felt as serious or potentially dangerous as they could have been. Instead, these issues become impetus for empowerment and unification, and the film ends on a positive, and almost uplifting note. It worked for me then, and it still does. It’s one of the few films I can point to as an educator on the subject of youth development that captures the feelings that pervade youth of this age, and demonstrates that all youth have these feelings. You don’t have to be the burner, the geek or the headcase to have these feelings. The class jock and princess were also filled with a lot of self-doubt and fears.
When I think about the criticism of not including people of color in his movies, I wonder if he could have made films any other way, and if people realize how valuable it was that Hughes was criticized for this. I think we should all develop a broad perspective about life, and do our best to understand and embrace cultural and ethnic perspectives that exist in our world. That stated, I think John Hughes wasn’t the man for delivering that perspective. Call me crazy, but a white guy who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago is not who I think is best qualified for delivering a movie about people of other ethnicities and culture. This is not to say that he couldn’t, but I don’t think it would have been accepted as legitmate work, and I also don’t believe that he would have the exposure to issues facing people of color to properly write and direct a movie of this type.
Furthermore, Hughes was very capable of describing and conveying some of the typical issues that suburban white teens faced at the time, and he did a pretty good job of it. Well, I should say, my perspective as a suburban white kid felt vindicated when I watched his movies. He captured the feelings that many adolescents have during the high school years, and did it in such away that kids could identify with characters, and admire these characters for how they chose to deal with these challenges.
One other thing, and then I will lay off the cultural analysis. Our country was and is such that we needed a John Hughes before we could appreciate a Spike Lee or a John Singleton. Hughes provided a baseline from which we could draw criticism, and this criticism of his work, made it possible for directors like Lee and Singleton to be heard and respected. This is not to say that these directors needed him. Lee and Singleton are excellent film makers, who would have surfaced without the existence of someone like John Hughes, but having Hughes around made it easier for both directors to draw attention to the disparities in perspective that were pervasive in typical Hollywood films. These films were not making movies about adolescent and late adolescent African American youth, and Hughes’ films were a constant reminder of that.
Cultural analysis aside, I’d like to briefly sum up what John Hughes meant to me. I was 14 when Sixteen Candles premiered; 16 when the Breakfast Club emerged; nearly 17 when Weird Science came out, and finishing my senior year of high school with the arrival of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. At the time, these felt like real movies about teens like me. Some of it was implausible, even ridiculous, but there were always real emotions expressed and well portrayed in these films. The frustration and angst associated with adolescence was well captured by Hughes.
Pretty in Pink came out when I was in the Army, and I didn’t get to watch it for the first time until two years later. Needless to say, I don’t identify with PIP as much as other Hughes films, but I still think it’s well done, and worth watching. That, and the fact that it was also Molly Ringwald’s third and final go around as Hughes’ muse. I was one of those teenage boys who didn’t mind seeing Ms. Ringwald in a feature length film.
His films also featured some pretty decent soundtracks (Pretty in Pink being the best of the lot), and Hughes introduced music that was often on the fringe of the mainstream. He introduced many American kids to U.K. acts such as the Psychedelic Furs, Simple Minds, Oingo Boingo, the Smiths, the Dream Academy, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and other post-punk/new wave bands that were not part of the popular music scene of that era. From an historical perspective, he was one of the few mainstream forces we can point to as moving the alternative music scene forward.
When I heard that Hughes passed away, it tugged at me a bit. Each day, I am faced with the realization that I am getting older. I am trying to delay it with diet and exercise, but I realize that time will eventually win out and I accept that. The news about Hughes’ passing reminded me of a time when life was fairly carefree, and it also made me appreciate how someone who was about my age now could identify with the problems and challenges of youth then. I think he still provides an example for people my age to remember and hopefully act upon when dealing with teens of their own. I am grateful for having exposure to John Hughes and his world, and I hope that his family and close friends can appreciate what he meant to people who grew up in the eighties. He was one of our biggest fans, and we gleefully reciprocated that feeling back to him. RIP John Hughes, and thanks, we were lucky to have you for the time that we did.
Here are a couple of interesting posts I found while reading my weekly music blogs:
1) The Aquarium Drunkard has a nice piece about Hughes. One that I wish I was capable of writing.
2) The story of Hughes’ pen pal was captured on a few news outlets after it went viral on Twitter. You have to be a zombie not to appreciate this story. Read the original posting here.
3) Some folks have posted various tracks from Hughes’ films. Here is a good attempt at developing the soundtrack to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
That’s it for now… I will try to post when I can. I am working on my own collection of Hughes’ tunes. My wife asked me for a copy, and I will post it soon.