Appearing in the doc also afforded an excuse to watch all of Hughes' movies (i.e. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, She's Having a Baby, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Uncle Buck, and Curly Sue) consecutively, something I'd wanted to do for a long time. Herewith, five of the many things I learned (or rediscovered) over the course of this task:
1. With one exception, Hughes' movies are a little like William Inge plays...
In that their narratives span a day or two (The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off flirt with unfolding in real time) and usually centre on a gathering, be it a wedding (Sixteen Candles) or Saturday detention (The Breakfast Club). This suffuses them with a humility honoured by a favouring--almost to the exclusion of plot--of character over message, however political the personal might ultimately be. The aforementioned exception is the joyless She's Having a Baby, which bites off way more than it can chew in going, for argument's sake, from womb-to-tomb instead of dawn-to-dusk. It's one of those crazy-quilt attempts to say everything about men and women that wind up saying nothing at all.
2. John Hughes was the Quentin Tarantino of his day...
In that he loots the pop-culture graveyard for tonal cues diegetic and otherwise. Think of how Hughes alternates the themes from "Peter Gunn" and "Dragnet" for Anthony Michael Hall's "Geek" in Sixteen Candles, or the 2001 and Rocky riffs that open and close, respectively, Weird Science. Like Tarantino, he's also unfairly maligned for the many pretenders to his throne that have cropped up over the years.
3. John Hughes is an artist.
You read vintage reviews of Hughes' pictures--which make them sound like the Rob Schneider vehicles of their day--and you think, What am I missing? Hughes has said that working with veteran cutter Dede Allen on The Breakfast Club was like going to film school, and indeed he became more editorially conscientious thereafter. (Ferris Bueller's Day Off carefully layers rhythms into its blocking.) But there's a shot in Sixteen Candles that shows a prodigious talent, whereby Molly Ringwald is stranded on a bus with Anthony Michael Hall, who's clumsily putting the moves on her: on the opposite side of the frame is a young Joan Cusack doing nothing more than staring off into space--but she's wearing a neck-brace. Because Hughes never leaves the master containing the three of them, the sight of Cusack becomes increasingly absurd and transcendently funny. (It's positively Lynchian.) I think of this TV-unfriendly sight gag, or the Dreyer-esque close-ups of Molly Ringwald during the 'group therapy' sequence of The Breakfast Club, or the detours into Dennis Potter territory in She's Having a Baby (a movie notably edited by Alan Heim, who won an Oscar for Potter contemporary Bob Fosse's All That Jazz), and I can't for the life of me figure out why the phrase "sitcom-style" turns up again and again in criticism of Hughes' oeuvre.
4. The '80s: it was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
With such corporations as Coca-Cola now in charge of the studios, the suits were eager to make not movies, but products, and research/experience told them that their buying public was the youth of America. Along comes Hughes, screenwriter of the popular National Lampoon's Vacation, expressing an interest in tailoring films to the teen demographic--a marketing exec's wet dream. And he proved a mostly responsible ambassador to puberty, eschewing the era's T&A crutch (there's nudity in the PG-rated Sixteen Candles, but it's used to illustrate Molly Ringwald's Carrie White-like inferiority complex) and, by extension, giving teenage girls a point of entry through female characters who weren't simply there to be coveted. (This is really where the Hughes-scripted Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful enter the conversation.) Alas, Yellow Peril and homophobia reigned back then, and Hughes was no more immune to it than, say, Steven Spielberg, with the grotesque caricature Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe, the Asian Stepin Fetchit) staining the surprisingly sweet Sixteen Candles like Breakfast at Tiffany's' Mr. Yunioshi. But though Hughes' films are generally lacking in minority representation, he makes up for it by taking a quintessentially Marxist view of high school.
5. John Hughes stopped directing for a reason.
While the "rich" and the "poor" always learn to get along in Hughes' films, there's no question that his allegiance lies with the latter. Consider the quietly devastating passage from Uncle Buck wherein the slovenly, unemployed Buck, flipping through an album at the suburban mansion of his wealthy brother, notices a wedding photo that has been folded to crop Buck out of the picture: Hughes keeps the scene subjective by lingering on the photograph instead of on Buck's reaction, effectively turning sympathy into empathy. But even at that point, his identification with the underclass was starting to seem a little disingenuous, and once you get to Curly Sue, the last film with Hughes at the helm, his portrayal of poverty is downright paternalistic. I firmly believe that a fear of looking like a hypocrite drove him out of the director's chair--you can be Ken Loach or you can be a multi-millionaire (as Hughes had become by crassly exploiting his ability to churn out a screenplay a week).
In closing, I'm proud to be a part of this long-overdue project, which is definitely in good hands. My thanks to Matt and producers Kari Hollend and Michael Facciolo for inviting me to take part. You can learn all about Don't You Forget About Me at the film's official website.
Walter's review of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is online at last. And if you missed them, check out his piece on the second wave of Anchor Bay's "Masters of Horror" DVDs; Alex's analysis of The Untold Story of Emmett Till; and Travis' take on the clunky cult item Lifespan.