Thursday, August 19, 2010

Don't You Forget About Me: John Hughes (1950-2009)

It has been over a year since John Hughes died. He was one of my favourite directors of all time. Sure, he did a lot of bad films. But his five good films, to me, were so damn good that he is one of my favourites anyway. For the longest time, I was trying to write a post about John Hughes but never could write something I thought to be good enough. I referred to his work on this blog though here and here but could never complete a full post discussing his work. There are many failed attempts tucked away on this laptop that will remain there till this hard disk crashes or this laptop goes. But, nevertheless, as I saw the documentary Don’t You Forget About Me, a tribute to John Hughes and an account of four filmmakers to get an interview with John Hughes, I decided to take another stab at writing a post. The result is this; let’s see if this one has an end.

John Hughes has been described as the “philosopher of adolescents” and very rightly so. No filmmaker has captured teenage experiences on camera as effectively as John Hughes did. Also, no one took these experiences as seriously as he did or made it such an integral part of their life’s work. Consequently, no one has succeeded in representing them on film as well as he has. In an age of Twihards, Friedberg and Seltzer movies and Size 0 prom queens, the work of John Hughes shines bright still, and here’s why.

Most people see Hughes’ work as defining the teenage experience in the 1980s. Sure, that is true. However, if we scratch the surface, the themes are universal, not only across time but also place. Middle class and upwards, teenagers across geographical and cultural boundaries find themselves relating to his films. I used to be one of them. In fact, in some ways, I still am. I mean, John Hughes went to high school himself in the 1960s, a very different time from the 80s. Yet, he focused on the themes, the experiences and these could be transposed to just about any time. Hence, the enduring appeal of his work. Unlike most 80s movies, his films have aged remarkably well for the most part. Through his films, he showed the bittersweet experiences of teenage years; from the friends, the joy, the hopes and dreams to the peer and parental pressure, the insecurities, the angst and the painful realities. And he did this with a light hand, but without compromising on the honesty. This is, I think, the prime reason why I believe The Breakfast Club is, hands down, the greatest teen film of all time. Not American Graffiti and certainly not Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

His movies captured the exuberance of teenagers as well as the confusion. His depiction, though laced with humour, had a tinge of melancholy that made us think when we laughed at say, Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. His characters, as well as the actors playing them, were imperfect and he celebrated those imperfections and used them well. Even his most conventional romantic comedies were something more than the superfluous junk churned out today at an alarming rate. They were not stories about the most beautiful girl in the world with a perfect life and personality being unable to Mr. Right. Some Kind of Wonderful was about angst, peer pressure and friendships along with being a love triangle. Pretty in Pink explored the themes of individuality, beauty and class differences despite coming closest of all Hughes’ work to a conventional romantic comedy. Hughes’ greatest strength lay in the details in depicting these themes and his unique yet believable characters.

Today, films about teens or ones targeting teens are either American Pie spin offs, special effects extravaganzas, Twilight adaptations or shockingly shallow chick flicks (they don’t even deserve to be called romantic comedies). Occasionally, stories about real teenagers do show up in films like Rocket Science and Juno. However, these are few and far between. In these times where opening weekends, marketing and promotion are more important than characters and scripts, one longs for one of Hughes’ quirky characters to return to the screen. It could be Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; or Allison or Bender from The Breakfast Club; or Ducky in Pretty in Pink. These are all from Hughes’ mind; maybe even his own life. But what is remarkable is that a bit of that quirkiness exists in so many of us and Hughes’ was able to capture its essence and put it on the screen for us. Even today, when all through high school and college, people are stereotyped into categories, Hughes’ work is a reminder that there is a little bit of everyone of these stereotypes in each one of us and that we are all bound by our common experiences of hopes and drems; fears and insecurities.

This was meant to be a movie review for the documentary, Don’t You Forget About Me. However, it didn’t quite make it there, did it? *sigh* It is a good film that succeeds in one of its two goals and that is paying a tribute to Hughes’ contribution. It features interviews from people who worked with Hughes as well the people who reviewed his work or drew inspiration from him. I would recommend it for fans of Hughes’ work and even those familiar with it. However, perhaps the best tribute was paid to Hughes this (now) highly popular blog post.

There will never be another Hughes. There probably also will never be a film that will best The Breakfast Club. That is Hughes’ cinematic and cultural contribution. Don’t you forget about him.

P.S.: I guess I reached the end of this post after all. Still not sure if it's good enough though.
P.P.S.: For those reading this post and unacquainted with Hughes’ work, rent and watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful and Sixteen Candles. Now!

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