John Hughes (1950–2009) R.I.P.

John Hughes only directed eight movies but the first four of these—Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Weird Science—captured something remarkable for those coming of age in the 1980s.  As I write this, the viewer tributes to Hughes are starting to rack up underneath clips from his films on You Tube, many pointing to these films as providing defining memories of their youth.  While John Hughes cannot be credited with creating the teen movie, he did successfully re-imagine the genre for the 1980s generation, moving it away from the retro comedies of the 1970s —American Graffiti, Grease and Happy Days—to a more relevant, recognisably contemporary setting.

Sure, it was still a white-bread, middle-class America, but as with the best Hollywood fare, Hughes’ films were able to transcend national borders. His strongest point was his ability to head right into the psyche of the high school student, building his narratives around universally recognisable teen concerns and themes: relationships; crushes; constantly embarrassing families; the desire to be popular; the need to be recognised as an individual; adults as enemies. At the same time, the facades of cool that his characters carefully constructed around them were always balanced on a knife edge, easily tipped over into the depths of shame and despair by a cutting remark or rejection by their heart’s desire in the wake of their clumsy teenage advances. It was this touch that gave his films both their comedic value and their light sense of pathos.

Before he turned to filmmaking, John Hughes wrote comedy pieces in the humour magazine National Lampoon. It was here that he developed the ability to accurately capture the traumas and misguided fantasies of teenage life (Sixteen Candles was based on one of these Lampoon stories).  Hughes’ legacy can be detected in many later teen films: from the ‘gross-out’ American Pie series, the social realist style of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, and onto the more direct tribute seen in Napoleon Dynamite.

Capping off Hughes’ unique filmmaking style were the carefully selected soundtrack songs. While it may seem somewhat clichéd now, at the time the pairing of angst-ridden teens with angst-ridden pop from then little-known  British bands such as Simple Minds and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark was a masterstroke. Fitting, perhaps, to sign off with the aptly titled song that closes out Hughes’ best work, The Breakfast Club: Don’t You Forget About Me.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: