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I was finishing up some stuff at work yesterday afternoon when a friend emailed me with the news that filmmaker John Hughes, 59, had died of a heart attack. "What???" I squawked. "Oh my gosh, John Hughes died!" I exclaimed to everyone around me. Someone responded with "Who?" My jaw dropped. "Who? What do you mean, who? John Hughes! You know, Ferris Bueller...Sixteen Candles?" He uttered a flippant "So?" I nearly had a temper tantrum. "It's a big deal! He was like, the quintessential director of the 80s!"
Everyone looked at me strangely, but I couldn't help it. I vividly remember watching my first John Hughes movie. My mother and I had rented Sixteen Candles, and I instantly fell in love with the hunk of man that was Jake Ryan. To this day, I still get goose bumps at the scene where Samantha comes out of the church to see that everyone is leaving. She stares glumly at the ground, but when she looks up...there he is! Cue cheesy, synthesized music for dramatic effect. Honestly, is there a girl alive who didn't rewind the whole church/birthday cake scene like a dozen times? Jake found his way onto my all time Hollywood heartthrob list, right under Han Solo/Indiana Jones.
The news of Hughes' death really bothers me, much more so than any other recent celebrity deaths, including MJ's. His films helped shape my teen years; his numerous portrayals of high school culture were hilarious, poignant, and well, real. He was also quite the prolific screenwriter with more than a dozen film successes under his belt, including Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Some Kind of Wonderful, Weird Science, Home Alone, and the National Lampoon's Vacation movies. In fact, Hughes wrote Ferris Bueller in just six days. Six days! As an aspiring screenwriter myself, that is, simply (and generationally) put, RAD.
Hughes brought a number of memorable characters to life over the years. He gave us the beautiful and seemingly untouchable Amanda Jones; the aforementioned Jake Ryan and the hysterical Long Duk Dong. He gave us a devious, teenage genius in the form of Ferris Bueller; the wacky but loveable sidekick/best friend Duckie. He took the Griswold family through Wally World, Europe, and Christmas traditions. He introduced the tube sock and unitard clad Kelly LeBrock into the dreams of young men everywhere. He made a once pint-sized Macaulay Culkin a household name. These characters are seared so deeply into minds of my generation that we'll be quoting them when we're 75 and (almost) senile.
Hughes gave everyone a peek into the chaotic and often cruel world of high school. He showed us love won and love lost. He taught us that, in lieu of the most beautiful girl in school, just maybe the guy was meant to be with his wise-beyond-her-years tomboy best friend. Alternatively, he made our hearts' break for the guy who was so in love with his best friend that he let her go to be with her Prince Charming. He taught us to rage against stereotypes and conformity. Hughes reminded us that sometimes teens will be teens, and that "life moves pretty fast...if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." He warned us that mean and nasty older siblings would eventually get their gruesome comeuppance. And last but not least, he showed us that no matter how dysfunctional and embarrassing our families can be, the holidays have a way of bringing us back together.
He fused music, art, and history with pop culture. I mean, who can listen to OMD, The Psychedelic Furs, or Simple Minds without thinking fondly of Molly Ringwald and other various members of the 80s brat pack? Just this morning I found myself singing along with “If You Leave,” and I could perfectly envision the prom scene at the end of Pretty in Pink, a movie that I once convinced my father to watch with me, swearing that it was like, the best movie EVER. Or how about Georges Seurat? You might not know who he is, and you might not recognize the title "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," but if you saw the following painting...
...chances are good that you would immediately chuckle and say, "Ah...Cameron's painting!" Hughes showed bratty American teenagers historical landmarks like Buckingham Palace and Stonehenge, Big Ben and Parliament…again and again and again.
Even though his later films (Home Alone, The Great Outdoors, Uncle Buck, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, etc) didn’t have quite the same effect on me as did his earlier work, he still had a way of capturing human emotions in the most entertaining ways possible. For my generation, his name alone brings on a wave of bittersweet nostalgia. Our grandchildren will never know the significance of giving a pair of panties to a geek or using a bra as a prop during a ritual to create the perfect woman. They will never look at Bill Paxton and remember that time when he was turned into a pile of human excrement as a result of his bullying ways. They'll never look at Randy Quaid and forever remember the dickie-wearing, numb skull cousin Eddie he once portrayed. Words like "neomaxizoomdweebie" and "motorhead" will never make it into their vernacular. They'll be puzzled when us old folks chuckle at the name Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago.
And so I say to you, Mr. Hughes, thank you for impacting us children of the 80s in such a memorable way. It truly is the end of an era. You will be missed.
As a salute to John Hughes, I invite you, my readers, to share some of your favorite scenes and/or quotes from his films. Here are a few of my favorites:
Howard: Dong! Where is my automobile?
Long Duk Dong: Oto-mo-biiile?
Richard Vernon: You may not talk, you will not move from these seats. Any questions?
John Bender: Yeah. Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?
-The Breakfast Club
Andie: I just want them to know that they didn't break me.
-Pretty in Pink
Grace: Oh, he's very popular, Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, d*ckheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude.
-Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Clark: We're gonna press on, and we're gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny %#$@-ing Kaye!
-National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation