August 6, 2009

John Hughes 1950-2009

John Hughes, the filmmaker that brought us classics like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off passed away today at 59.

Hughes was easily my favorite filmmaker as kid. When I think of the movies I loved in the 80's, his name comes up over and over again. Besides the ones mentioned above, I was a huge fan of Vacation, Weird Science, Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Some Kind of Wonderful. I actually just recently watched Weird Science again, on DVD, after a lengthy discussion about "what ever happened to John Hughes" during a trip to Seattle with a colleague. For my money, one of the funniest scenes in all of cinema takes place early in that movie where Anthony Michael Hall's character gets drunk off his ass in a Chicago blues bar and starts to tell the regulars there about his teenage love life.

Hughes successes in the 1980's coincided with the rise of MTV; and the two pop culture titans complimented each other very well. There are many songs that when I hear them, I instantly think of a John Hughes movie. I can't hear "Holiday Road" without thinking of Clark Griswald driving the family truckster across America. When I think of Sixteen Candles, I hear The Thompson Twins singing "If You Were Here." Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me" is forever linked to The Breakfast Club (and, interestingly, the band had no interest in recording the song but Hughes himself convinced them to record it. It became their biggest hit ever.) When I think of Pretty in Pink, I think of OMD's "If You Leave." Dave Wakeling, from the English Beat recorded to the title track to She's Having A Baby and Ferris Bueller's Day Off introduced me to Sigue Sigue Sputnik and, of course, Yello's "Oh Yeah" which will forever be the theme song playing in my head when I see a kickass car.

Hughes, in the 1980's, was incredibly prolific. Vacation was his first produced screenplay, and after it hit, the one time Chicago ad-man saw several of his screenplays go into production, many with him directing as well. As the 80's transitioned to the 90's, Hughes was the reigning king of "teen cinema" and his formula was quite simple. While others made films exclusively about horny or stoned teenagers, Hughes took the seemingly simple step of making them actual human beings with relatable problems and funny dialogue. His movies rarely had nudity, sex or dick jokes, hallmarks of "teen movies" and instead looked at things like class struggles, first crushes, sibling rivalry and growing up. With nothing left to accomplish in teen movies, Hughes started the 90's with a monster success, the family comedy Home Alone. While that movie was successful beyond his wildest dreams and made him a gagillionaire, it really was the beginning of the end for Hughes the filmmaker. A few more kiddie flicks followed, including the awful remake of Miracle on 34th Street and the totally unnecessary 'live action' version of 101 Dalmations before Hughes simply retreated from Hollywood altogether.

So many of his films were important to me growing up, and so many of them are laced with such nostalgia that it's very difficult to pick a favorite out of the group. But the one that really stands out, and really holds up after many many viewings is one of his least known. In 1987, Hughes
wrote and produced a film called Some Kind of Wonderful, that, in many ways, was a re-hashing of his 1985 flick Pretty in Pink. (Both films were directed by Howard Deutch, strangely, considering how similar they are.) Some Kind of Wonderful is a simple teenage love story about Keith, a blue collar kid who doesn't really fit in at school who pines for the unattainable Amanda Jones, who rolls with the rich kids. Keith has a tom-boy best friend Watts; who tries to talk him out of pursing the girl of dreams. The relationships in the movie are all incredibly well written, the friend, the love interest, the interaction with his family, all of it. While many will be talking about his well known classics, this is the movie that I would hold up as an example of what an excellent writer he was. If you haven't seen it, you really should.

Rest in Peace, John Hughes, and thanks for all of the wonderful memories.


  1. The 80s just wouldn't have been the same without Hughes! I especially enjoyed the sibling rivalry aspect of his movies. I vote for an MTV News John Hughes movie night!

  2. My top five Hughes movies:
    1. Uncle Buck
    2. Sixteen Candles
    3. Planes Trains and Automobiles
    4. Vacation
    5. Ferris Bueller's Day Off