ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

JER'S TURN: REMEMBERING DIRECTOR/ WRITER JOHN HUGHES

JER: There are a selected few I remember actually shedding real tears for at the loss of  Hollywood’s talented actors or directors from over the years… some that immediately come to mind are John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Jim Henson and Michael Jackson…as well as “friends” Tony Curtis, James (Mr. Scott from STAR TREK) Doohan and Leslie Nielson. There is one director who made a very strong and impacting impression on both my outlook at life and the way to enjoy and endure my difficult teenage years was through the films of Mr. John Hughes. I remember logging onto MSN the morning of August 6th of 2009, when my morning was interrupted by the flashing blurb: “Director John Hughes, Dead at 59.” My heart stopped for a moment and my vision blurred from the unending stream of tears I couldn’t wipe fast enough to read the news…

I shudder at the fact that FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF is celebrating it 25th anniversary as of June 11, 1986…that’s this past weekend, folks! I was a mere Junior in High School when I ran to my local theatre to catch this film its opening weekend! With wonderful memories and echoing laughs from the past, I would love to pay tribute to a man who gave us many laughs, many tears and loads of entertainment!

John Hughes graduated Glenbrook North High School in Glenbrook, Illinois in 1968 and began writing for ‘National Lampoon’ magazine two years later. With the magazine’s successful presentation of ANIMAL HOUSE in 1978, John was asked to teleplay five episodes for its TV spin- off ‘Delta House’ in 1979. Having now moved into the ranks of actual film screenplays (National Lampoon’s CLASS REUNION in 1982) Hughes would take the magazine’s name to a higher and broader level of success with his new script entitled, simply: VACATION (1983).

 Based off the actual cross-country antics he experienced with his family, VACATION, starring Chevy Chase and a young Anthony Michael Hall, became a big Summer hit and would give Hughes the boost he needed to actually take the helm as a director to a newly written script of his about a teenage girl coping with the trials and tribulations of her dysfunctional family and awkward rituals of high school…all while turning a year older…16 CANDLES (1984).

16 CANDLES would introduce us to the basic building blocks of the “Brat Pack” (a group of preppy and well known teenage actors from the 80’s) by introducing us to performers like John and Joan Cusack, Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald. The film built a huge word-of-mouth success the Summer of ’84, which ultimately became another financial hit for Hughes!

It wouldn’t be but a year later that John Hughes would capture a mesmerizing blend of comedy and drama by a simple telling of a Saturday’s detention gathering of a nerd (Anthony Michael Hall), a jock (Emilio Estevez) a rebel (Judd Nelson) a basket-case (Ally Sheedy) and a princess (Molly Ringwald)…all high school stereotypes gathered for THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985.) The film went beyond just the telling and goings-on of that fateful detention day…it spoke about the perceptions and defenses held by adolescent stereotyping, without getting to know the true person behind the mask held up by society’s standards. Once the mask was removed, they understood and related with each other as the conclusion comes to plain and unanimous agreeing: School carried a huge peer pressure and acceptance weight, parents truly do not understand and that everyone has problems…no matter what your background or group-class you belonged to. The film become another hit for Hughes as both writer and director and cemented the “Brat Pack’s” future for a few more years to come…Enjoy the following clip including moments from THE BREAKFAST CLUB to the theme song of "Don't You Forget About Me"


Hughes was not stingy with his unlimited fountain of entertaining screenplays. He would allow his scripts to be directed by new and upcoming talent. Such writing credits of Hughes that should be recognized are EUROPEAN VACATION (1985), PRETTY IN PINK (1986) and SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (1987).

Continuing his streak of directing his own stories, he saved two screenplays for himself during the mid 80’s. He began with a comedy throwing in the sci-fi laced boy-fantasy question: “What if you could make a girl, actually make a girl?” The answer would lie within WEIRD SCIENCE (1985) bringing back favorite ‘geek’ actor Anthony Michael Hall and introducing us to Bill Paxton (ALIENS, TITANIC) along with Robert Downey Jr (CHAPLIN, IRONMAN) and every adolescent boy’s dream come true, the gorgeous Kelly LeBrock as ‘Lisa.” The film was a big budget push for Hughes, working with high- end special effects for the first time and with producer Joel Silver (MATRIX, LETHAL WEAPON) another big Summer draw would ring sweetly for the Hughes camp! The second punch would come the following year.
Here is the classic music video from Oingo Boingo (with Danny Elfman on vocals)

1986, as mentioned previously, brought forth a boy named Ferris Bueller. An odd name, no doubt… but gave hope where hope was needed. Everyone needs a day off! Adults, teenagers…it didn’t matter the ranks, backgrounds or social status. Moreover, Ferris taught you how to get that day off and relish in it! Introducing us to a pre- DIRTY DANCING starlet, Jennifer Grey as Ferris’ jealous sister and Charlie Sheen as a burnt-out druggie at a police precinct (hmm, does life imitate art or vice versa?) the film carried on the staple of what would be the Hughes formula of success: Root for the underdog and every nerd gets his day!

Throughout the course of the late 80’s, John Hughes would continue on with a string of successful ‘contemporary’ classics like PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBLIES (1987); SHE’S HAVING A BABY (1988) and the enduring UNCLE BUCK (1989). These three films would prove a certain maturity for Hughes, both as a writer and a director. Now moving away from the high school years of film and story telling his attention would focus on family, friends and growing up. His last film, CURLY SUE (1991) was a cute and loving film starring Jim Belushi about a con artist in the pint- size form of a little girl. Though it did moderately well, it did not ring in the dollars of its predecessors. Somewhat disappointed by its non-acceptance, Hughes would not return to directing again…almost disappearing from the likes of Hollywood.

Although the cameras wouldn’t point and shoot by Hughes’ command, his screenplays would continue. It is bittersweet to know that many films carried the Hughes sticker without the general public knowing this was the very same man who had given us 16 CANDLES and THE BREAKFAST CLUB not more than a decade ago. The screenplays that followed worth honorable and entertaining mention are: THE GREAT OUTDOORS (1988), CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989), HOME ALONE (1990), BEETHOVEN (1991) BABY’S DAY OUT (1994) and the Disney live-action film 101 DALMATIONS (1996).

John Hughes died on August 6, 2009 at the age of 59 suffering a heart attack while walking the streets of Manhattan. Just prior to his death, Hughes became the documentary subject of four Canadian filmmakers in DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME who searched for Hughes since dropping out of the spotlight in 1991. Interviews with former cast members and friends would help piece the man that few really knew on a personal level, while keeping his private life away from the public.

Ringwald, Hall, Nelson & Sheedy
 On March 7, 2010, a tribute to his work was presented during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards ceremony. Clips of his most memorable films flashed before the viewing audience followed by cast members of several films that were Molly Ringwald (16 CANDLES, PRETTY IN PINK), Matthew Broderick (FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF), Macaulay Culkin (HOME ALONE, UNCLE BUCK), Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy (THE BREAKFAST CLUB), Anthony Michael Hall (16 CANDLES, WEIRD SCIENCE) and Jon Cryer (PRETTY IN PINK). All gathered to recognize and thank the man who made them who they are…Mr. John Hughes, we will not forget about you! 
 Enjoy this clip from the original airing of the Academy Awards

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Undoubtedly this was a shock to many fans and to the industry when the news of Hughes' death was released. You are certainly not alone, Jer, when you mention the films of Hughes having such an impact on your life outlook and helping you to endure those difficult and bizarre teenage years we all go through.

I can remember the first time I saw "The Breakfast Club" being in 1985 in Trafalgar Square, London at an 11:00 pm showing. I remember a very cool combination of having the choice of paying 3 pounds to sit in the front, 4 pounds in the back and 5 pounds in the middle - almost theater-like in a way. To add, I saw the movie with a girl that I had a pseudo-crush on during high school and could not believe that the only way I could "go out" with her was if we were 8,000 miles from home.....a very surreal night. Oh, and the film was absolutely sensational - Yet, this is where I jump ship.

My teenage years ended and adulthood began rather quickly for me. I got over "geekdom" and really have not found the subject worth visiting for well over 20 years. Thus, what I yearned for and rather expected on screen began to change - dramatically. I am not sure that Hughes ever really had much of an impact on me after about 1985 and here's why:

Hughes films, at least in my mind target teenagers. Now this may sound cruel, but I am not sure that teenagers then or even today are that interesting of an audience or character to discuss unless those characters have a complexity about them (i.e. "The Last Picture Show"; "Stranger Than Paradise"; "The Graduate" etc.). Certainly the films starring what I call "kids" today are not only abysmal, but leave me searching for Excedrin migraine medication.

After "The Breakfast Club", it is a reach for me to find any significant film that he made which had any impact on me personally. "Ferris Bueller" was a hit, but as far as I am concerned, Broderick should stick to the stage and not film. The movie was cute and fun, but that's the extent of it. It does not shock me in the least to see it come on TBS or TNT 20 times a year. However, to ever find this flick on TCM or AMC would be a long shot.

"Vacation" and the rest of the Chevy Chase films associated with it are bearable for about 15 minutes. I cannot classify this as a strong film or even more so a strong movie. It is silly and dopey - and I guess that works for some, but not for me.

Ringwald & Cryer "Pretty In Pink"
Hughes found somewhat of a talent in Molly Ringwald, but I find that too many people think too highly of her acting talents and her films. "Pretty in Pink"? No way. Nothing was "duckie" about this - but then again, maybe everything was. This "brat pack" that Hughes began to form was almost embarrassing and is even more so today. Teenage actors have no business dominating screen time unless it is merited - and in no way did the likes of Molly Ringwald or Jon Cryer ever live up to their billing. A director must rely on the talent of his cast at some point to drive the narrative or plot and I am not sure that he ever really had the cast to truly make his films "great".

"Sixteen Candles" is bearable and somewhat intriguing in spots. The film labors however and the ending is entirely predictable. Thus, it remains linear and forgetful.

During the late 1980’s, John Hughes would "bless us" (sarcastic) with movies as you mentioned, Jer, such as: PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBLIES (1987), SHE’S HAVING A BABY (1988) and the enduring UNCLE BUCK (1989). These however are not "classics" and in no way, shape or form resembles what a "classic" film should be. What makes them classics? The performances were bleak, the writing was thin, the humor was short-lived and complexity of character was void. Character development rarely happens in John Hughes films unless we talk about his work pre-1986 and that might be limited to one film. I am utterly confused....

Culkin in "Home Alone"
"The Great Outdoors?" "Home Alone"? "Baby's Day Out"? These are movies that (well at least 2 of them) rank in my bottom 100 of all time and offer absolutely nothing to an audience in terms of cinematic value. Box office hits do not qualify as good films - we have seen that time and time again. These movies were senseless, pointless and belong in somewhere in the Dollar Tree cart at the back of the store.

I am now extremely nauseous. You see, what is "funny" in one medium simply is not in another. It almost seems like Hughes wants to take an "animated" idea and move it to the screen with cartoon-style gags and other things that are just not that funny. I draw a line at this point - a line that separates A from B....it really is that clear.

I know that you are an avid fan, Jer, of the work of John Hughes. I also know that his films meant a great deal to you and to others and that his passing away a year or so ago was quite saddening.

Art remains subjective and I respect your opinions and feelings regarding his works. However, I must remain true to my own opinions as well and critique this director as I would any other.

John Hughes, as you can tell by now, is not exactly high on my list of directors. I find his work forgetful and uninspiring. I find his characters to be thin and devoid of complexity or motivation. I find his directing style to be commercial and once too often done. Hughes had a habit of repeating his genre over and over. As a director, the bottom line is that his work was marginal at best and I am not sure it even reaches that level. I can only think about two movies that I would ever think of re-visiting: "Sixteen Candles" and "The Breakfast Club". My question is what happened to Hughes after that?????

JER: My definition of “classic” in the sense of certain films of John Hughes, is that they are memorable and impactful… both for within its time and the generations that followed. Classic, to me, is that it has stood the test of time. The films speak from a very 80’s representation: its music, its clothes, its hairstyles, its language but moreover, for the fight of every teenager’s rightful place in society is also represented within the silliness and humor portrayed from within.

Yes, none of the films mentioned can stand along side what others perceive as “classic”- titled films like GONE WITH THE WIND or SOUND OF MUSIC, however, every generation tries to find its voice from within the use of film. Did we not once have REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and did it not speak to its generation about the life and times of its generation? Didn’t EASY RIDER do the same? What about AMERICAN GRAFFITI or GREASE?

I would like to believe and argue my point as these films rightfully belonging in the ‘classic’ naming for what it meant to grow up as these films were being released. In the 80’s, Hughes kicked off the genre of teenage films…although other writers were looking to add more raunchy humor and nudity (PORKY’S, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN) and soften the ‘life lessons’ that maybe Hughes was trying to convey in his writing and directing. Hughes is not Orson Wells or Cecil B DeMille…but his archive of stories and characters definitely made a stronger impact in American pop culture than maybe other films that have won Best Picture! Do not forget that I included the word ‘contemporary’ prior to the word classic, thus underlining a newer kind of cinematic acceptance.

Now, let’s address the actors, JC… the actors proved to be exactly who they set out to be. Sometimes over-the-top, sometimes bland... but very real…or identifiable, is the best word needed here. Broderick, Ringwald, Cryer and even Culkin served their duties by acting in memorable moments captured both in the minds of fans and on film to last a lifetime. Maybe their careers aren’t thriving by today’s standards, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t carve a big wedge out for the roles presented and forever remembered for… just like a good John Hughes film should be remembered for! The dialog wasn’t Shakespeare, but it never set out to be.

Let me make a brief and quick observation…let’s talk about THE BREAKFAST CLUB for just a moment. In a generation capturing films and translating them into Broadway- bound plays (YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, SPAMALOT) there lies a grand opportunity to be taken by adapting THE BREAKFAST CLUB for stage! The story basically all takes place within the school library, so you just need one set throughout the entire presentation… the story focuses on five characters that each present its own complexities and personalities, slowly unraveling themselves to the viewing audience… there is a nice blend of rebellious tension, misunderstood- youth representations, humor and tears. A ‘play-like’ dialog roll-out of words that works as a narrative point by the cast as they reveal what they know of each other and slowly unveil their own personalities to each other as the story unwinds. Hopefully, someone will hear my cries and look into a serious adaption, just remember to give me the credit for the idea, OK?

Well, as I dust off room on my mantel for my upcoming Emmy, we close another counterpoint bout! What are your thoughts? Any special memories that these films conjure up for you or do you share JC’s point of view? We always welcome your comments and suggestions. Thank you so much for your feedback! Tune in next week when JC takes the pilot’s seat and flies us over uncharted cinematic territory…until then, we will SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!

4 comments:

  1. John Hughes was the best! I don't feel there are any other movies that have measured up to his. Love all his movies, my Fav's Pretty in Pink & Breakfast Club. =)

    Norma V.

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  2. I totally got into 'Breakfast club' and lots of those 80's style movies from Mr. Hughes. I was going throug my teen years back then and the stories were so true to life. Ricardo - port hueneme, ca

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  3. I liked some of the earlier movies growing up that Hughes put together, but as time marched on his movies and films seemed to lose their flavor and passion - they got kind of corny actually. His career will pretty much be remembered for The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Prety in Pink. LEON from NORFOLK, VA.

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  4. Hi Leon and thank you for your comments...I agree that something got lost later in his career...which is why maybe he focused on writing instead of directing. I will agree that he will be best remembered and loved for his earlier films!

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