The 1980s. Fashion is horrendous. Thank God the music has spunk. But one thing the world's missing? Realistic portraits of teenagers on the big screen... Who knew that their saviour would arrive in the form of a previously painfully shy Chicago native?
Breaking onto the movie scene with warmer-upper
National Lampoon’s Vacation
, John Hughes took up the camera to direct his first hit
. Suddenly, real-life issues were being burned up under the lens – forgotten birthdays, high school crushes, developing breasts…
“At the time I came along, Hollywood's idea of teen movies meant there had to be a lot of nudity, usually involving boys in pursuit of sex, and pretty gross overall,” Hughes once recalled.
“And the last thing Hollywood wanted in their teen movies was teenagers! It was all 25-year-olds in those movies. When I did
, all the extras, they were all real freshmen boys and girls from the same high school.” What a difference one man can make.
No matter what kind of teenager you are/were, there’s always a character in a Hughes movie who speaks directly to you.
Ignored by your family? You’re Samantha! (Or Kevin McCallister.) Compulsive liar? You’re Allison! Struggling to pay the bills? You’re Andie! Created your own fantasy female through genetic tampering? You’re Gary and Wyatt!
Not that Hughes needed to take that test himself. “I was a little bit like Samantha,” he once said. “A lot of my feelings went into her character. I was also very much like Allison in
. I was a nobody. And I'm also a lot like
.” Speaking of…
Ah, Ferris. With that cheeky grin, all-knowing intelligence and ability to find the fun in every situation, he is the Hughes hero we all wanted to be/be with.
Of all the Hughes characters, he easily remains the coolest and most iconic. We’ve all pulled the sickie and skipped class, but Ferris
makes the most of it. Pivotally, he outsmarts every adult around him (a very Hughes trope) and has pretty much the best day ever.
Ferris himself, Matthew Broderick, looks back fondly. “It was really fun to shoot,” he says. “It was all about John Hughes. He was so bright and funny, and had such an original mind. It kind of seemed like a new type of film at the time, something that hadn’t really been seen before.
“It was a big shift, and John’s work was very much on everybody’s mind at the time. I had seen
The Breakfast Club
, and then to be asked to do his next one was really thrilling. It was a very special time.” Sing it with us, Danke Schoooooen...
“How did you write the story of
Pretty In Pink
?” Molly Ringwald once asked her director. “You told me about the Psychedelic Furs' song,” he responded. “And the title stuck in my head. I thought about your predisposition toward pink.”
Yes, music is very important to Hughes movies. Embedded in the ‘80s, but with an appeal that transcends the limits of time, the songs that accompany the tribulations of our teen tearaways are vital to each story.
The Breakfast Club
be without Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t Forget About Me’? Or
without Yello’s ‘Oh Yeah’?
Hughes obviously had a 'thank you for the music' as well, Ringwald’s Psychedelic Furs song kick-starting yet another mini masterpiece and saving him from crippling depression.
Pretty In Pink
the week after we finished
,” he said at the time. “I so desperately hate to end these movies that the first thing I do when I'm done is write another one.
“Then I don't feel sad about having to leave and everybody going away. That's why I tend to work with the same people; I really befriend them. I couldn't speak after
If there’s anything that marks Hughes’ films out as just that little bit cleverer than regular flicks, it’s the thought that goes into the tiniest detail.
Clearly, Hughes was a wickedly bright thinker, and his creativity stretched beyond fiddling with punchy dialogue and framing a nice shot.
He even went so far as to dream up complicated DIY fandangles and what-do-ya-call-ems for his films. Our first glimpse of such outside-the-box thinking came with
’s complex ‘sleeping figure’ device, which consisted of an audio track of Ferris sleeping and a pully that made a blow-up doll in his bed move. Hell, it convinced his mum.
Of course, Hughes really went to town when he wrote
, which figured in no end of inventive rubes for young McCauley Culkin to defend his house with. Our favourite remains the glue and feather bit. Simple but effective.
"When the burglars invade Kevin's home," noted review Roger Ebert in his review of the film, "they find themselves running a gamut of booby traps so elaborate they could have been concocted by Rube Goldberg - or by the berserk father in
Last House On The Left
." And if that's not a compliement, we don't know what is.
Breaking The Fourth Wall
It used to be the calling card of Bugs Bunny and Michael Caine in
, but Hughes transplanted the concept of breaking the fourth wall into his teen flicks – with stand-out effect.
Mostly, he used the idea for comedic ends, with characters shooting the audience a knowing glance here and there at an opportune moment. More often than not, the character breaking the fourth wall would be about to chat up a girl.
It worked best, however, in
, in which Matthew Broderick frequently addressed the audience head-on with witty, knowing asides. It’s a technique that could have fallen flat on its face if it weren’t for Hughes’ clever and authentic dialogue.
“Adults ask me all sorts of baffling questions, like, ‘Your teenage dialogue - how do you do that?’ and ‘Have you actually seen teens interact?’” Hughes once remembered. “And I wonder if they think that people under 21 are a separate species…”
Two films. Two Johns. Of all the many adult characters that Hughes scripted, it’s the ones played by friend and namesake John Candy that have a special place in our heart.
Candy was particularly pivotal in Hughes career, his involvement marking Hughes’ swerve away from teen drama to more adult comedies. Both
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
proved standout ventures for the two Johns.
In the former, Candy’s unhinged, overly-friendly traveller wins us over with his humour, then breaks our hearts with his tragic confessions. Then as the titular Uncle Buck, the big man excels as the guy whose heart is in the right place, but who’s gripped with a particularly stringent case of the Peter Pans.
Both roles showed that Hughes was no one trick pony - he could infuse adults with just as many colours as his teens. And boy did Candy deliver.
Understandably, Hughes was distraught when Candy died of a heart attack in 1994, five years after they’d worked together on
"He talked a lot about how much he loved Candy - if Candy had lived longer, I think John would have made more films as a director," Vince Vaughn, a friend of Hughes, once said. Sadly, it was a heart attack that took Hughes himself just 15 years later.
It’s Saturday evening the week before pay day. You’re staring at your DVD collection, debating what to watch.
are sat side-by-side on the shelf. Which do you take?
The John Hughes movie, of course. While many of the ‘90s teen comedies remain decent in their own right, they owe a huge (Hughes) debt of gratitude to Hughes’ pioneering work.
“The studios never perceived those films as hits,” Hughes once reminisced. “They'd always bring them out in February, which is when the studios usually dump the movies they have no confidence in.
“Of course, I was naive, I thought, ‘Fantastic! Right in the middle of that long stretch between Christmas and Spring Break, your coats are getting dirty, everything's dark, dingy - what a great time for a movie!’
“Especially one that's a little depressing. You see, one of the bits of wisdom I've picked up about adolescence is that joy and sorrow are equally pleasant to a teenager; those extreme states of mind are pretty cool whatever they are!”
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