Friday, August 7, 2009

So Long, John

Do you know who this man is? I’d be willing to bet that you do. If you’re over the age of 25 his impact on your life is probably immeasurable. Your memories are full of images, quotes and music that he has expertly placed there. Your fashion sense (or lack thereof) and style as well as the type of music that you listened to were all directly swayed by his creative genius. I’ll give you a hint: he is NOT Emo Phillips. Got it yet? O.K., I’ll tell you. His name is John Hughes. You still have no idea, do you? Come on, people! This man had arguably a larger sphere of influence surrounding him than anyone in the 80’s and early 90’s. Here’s a little more background information to help out. He made his acting debut in a brilliant uncredited role as “'Girl' in Dress with Paper Bag Over Head” in National Lampoon’s Class Reunion that somehow slipped past the folks at the Academy Awards. If you haven’t seen Class Reunion, you definitely need to. It is effing brilliant, and its fumbling attempts at humor and acting gives Student Bodies a run for its money…but I digress. The man pictured above is also responsible for such tour de force performances as “Man Running Between Cabs” in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off and a brilliant ten second part as “Brian’s Dad” in Breakfast Club. Add to his resume the fact that he was also the mastermind behind the famous Edge "Credit Card Shaving Test" ad campaign, and you’ll start to see his where I am coming from. No?

If you’re still wondering why you should care who this man is let me end the suspense now. John Hughes was the writer, director and producer of some of the most influential films of our lifetime. He was responsible for such screen gems as: Class Reunion (1982) [a classic if you are a aficionado of bad cinema like I am], Mr. Mom (1983) [meh…], Vacation (1983) [excellent], Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), European Vacation (1985), Weird Science (1985) [see what I’m saying yet?], Pretty in Pink (1986), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), The Great Outdoors (1988), Uncle Buck (1989), Christmas Vacation (1989), Home Alone (1990) as well as a dozen or so more movies that, well, aren’t as good. With the catalog of incredible films listed above it is easy to see what effect John Hughes has had on pop culture and on our generation as a whole. I’ve probably seen each of these movies easily ten times each, and I still never tire of watching them.

Hughes broke onto the Hollywood scene with the brilliant National Lampoon’s Vacation (“Real tomato ketchup, Eddie?” “Nothin’ but the best, Clark.”) and followed it up with what is arguably the most impressive string of comedies ever produced since the Marx brothers wandered off of the Vaudeville stage. His films were a collective breath of fresh air that broke free from the shadow of earlier comedic masterpieces like Animal House and Caddy Shack, and his portrayal of the realities of teenage life were a welcome step away from the Porky’s-style movies that preceded them. He used cutting edge film techniques like having the characters acknowledge the audience which set the bar for all others that dared follow in his footsteps. The “Brat Pack” (Ally Sheedy, Andrew McCarthy, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Rob Lowe) was born on his screen, and they continue to…um…I guess…well, they were great back then, weren’t they?

The musical scores for his films were all top-notch as well. They included music that John himself liked, and effectively capture the feeling of what people were listening to at the time that the films were made. Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, The Dream Academy, Yello, Oingo-Boingo, Los Lobos, and a veritable who’s who of 80’s rock icons back up his brilliant storylines and writing. To this day I can’t hear the Simple Mind’s “Don’t You Forget About Me” without thinking of the closing scene of The Breakfast Club. The same goes for Oingo-Boingo’s “It’s a Dead Man’s Party” and Weird Science. These songs are forever linked to those films in my mind the same way The Cars' “Moving in Stereo” is linked to Phoebe Kates' slow-mo pool exit in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Well, maybe not the same way (fellas, you know what I mean). Speaking of teen hormonal imbalances, John’s choice of Kelly LeBrock as the “creation”, Lisa, in Weird Science was definitely instrumental in many of my late night fumblefests in high school. Absolutely top marks there.

Although Ferris Beuller’s Day Off alone grossed more than $70 million in North America (after being made for around $6 million) it was Home Alone (sadly) that really caught the world’s attention. I must say that I am not a big fan, particularly because I think Macaulay Culkin is just about as unbearable to watch as Eric Roberts. I'd rather run a razor blade in between my toes. However, Home Alone remains at the top of the list of most successful live-action comedies of all time after raking in over $500 million worldwide.

In 1994, Hughes moved away from the spotlights in Hollywood to escape from the media and bask in the glow of early retirement in…Wisconsin? He even picked up a plow and played farmer in Illinois where he grew up. He died yesterday at the age of 59 while visiting family in New York.

You won’t hear the name of John Hughes in a list of directors like Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, and Alfred Hitchcock. Sadly, he never won any awards for any of his films. I don’t put too much merit in awards anyways. His works live inside us. They have helped to form an entire generation, my generation, and continue to influence us even today, 20 years later. Thank you, John.

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