August 06, 2009

Gone Baby Gone

Here are four words I never expected to be writing anytime soon: John Hughes is dead.

I feel this loss very deeply. This one hurts. As you may recall, in 2006 I appeared in a documentary about Hughes' legacy, titled Don't You Forget About Me. That movie was finally completed last year, and I hear I'm still in it. Good; I'm happy to stump for Hughes, and proud to revere him as a filmmaker. The past few years, it's been custom to bash Hughes (just read any review of I Love You, Beth Cooper), but these things are cyclical, and if his death doesn't sway the critical establishment to give up their grudge against him, maybe it will, at the very least, shame them into putting a moratorium on his name as a pejorative.

I had always hoped against hope for an honest-to-goodness comeback from Hughes, one where stepped back into the director's chair, which is really where his true talent lay. (I once blogged about his work in some depth here.) In 2002, he agreed to helm Maid in Manhattan after writing an early draft of the screenplay, but soon quit the project over having to cast Jennifer Lopez. I suspect it was the first excuse that came along--living up to his last name, Hughes was too much the recluse by that point. Even Judd Apatow never met him, despite having shepherded his treatment for Drillbit Taylor into production.

My brother approached me a few years ago about writing a screenplay called John Hughes Must Die. The premise was that an old man blames the problems of his life on The Breakfast Club and so builds a time machine to go back in time and assassinate Hughes. I came up with the following exchange between the old man and his idiot nephew:
Nephew: "You want to kill John Hughes? Mr. Weird Science? Mr. Pretty in Pink? Mr. Fresh Horses?"
Old Man: "Fresh Horses is David Anspaugh. You wanna kill David Anspaugh, build your own fucking time machine!"
To bro's dismay, I bowed out thereafter. I told him I simply couldn't do it--I didn't want John Hughes to die. His movies made me happy.

But John Hughes is dead.


jer fairall said...


I know we're not supposed to contrast and compare these things, but Hughes' work was a much more integral part of *my* 80s childhood than Michael Jackson's. The derisive use of "Hughesian" as critical shorthand for much lesser films (I actually first remember encountering it circa She's All That) always annoyed me too, and I've been feeling a little time-warped lately whenever some of the younger film fans I've met puzzle over my reverence for Ferris Bueller's Day Off or Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

You've done a bang up job over the years, Bill, in giving him the proper, thoughtful respect (particularly in your reviews of the aforementioned), and I thank you for that.

Walter_Chaw said...


The cold comfort is that Bill is, no shit, the author of perhaps the most insightful - the most *important* - work on Hughes work in print. If the screenplay wasn't in you, I hope to hell that a book-length critical analysis is. The comfort being that I can call Bill a friend at a moment of cultural displacement like this - and pick up the phone to pick his brain.

This one does, indeed, sting a little.

John Nada said...

This one really hurts. His movies were a constant part of my childhood. I don't think it's hurt this bad since John Candy. It's weird to feel pain over the passing of people you've never met.

simonsays2 said...

Saw the obit this morning and felt creeped as I watched Plains, Trains & Automobiles earlier this week.There's so much ff -ing brilliance within each scene. Such a simple story about two guys trying to get home for Thanksgiving (or so we think) that its reflection on human nature is pure bliss. He's a pioneer of the very real & kooky character on film life and no doubt had a huge influence on the Coen's and many an auteur since. Rest in peace John and we won't forget about you.

Anonymous said...

I usually can muster up some “que-sera-sera” attitude when confronted with the death of people I admire, but I confess to being pretty teary-eyed about Mr. Hughes. That cliched “voice of a generation” moniker is so often misappropriated-but, I think it’s perfectly apt for John Hughes. It’s not just movie geeks quoting Ferris and Cameron today.

I think Ebert, when reviewing The Breakfast Club, said something like: “the teens don’t speak like actual teens, but how teens would like to imagine that they speak” which is a perfect summary of why Hughes mattered so much--he was not just a filmmaker, he was a poet. Tonight, my pick is: “She’s Having A Baby”. A movie I kind of shrugged @ when I was a teenager, but love now. (can’t imagine why) Let’s see if I can hold back the waterworks during Bacon’s lovely closing speech: “In the end... I was loved more than I loved....” I don’t like my chances.

-Dave Gibson

jacksommersby said...

one where stepped back into the director's chair, which is really where his true talent lay.

I just got through writing this same thing over at the blog at my site, Bill. I've never been a fan of Ferris Bueller, but, man, it is insanely well-directed. And I found it amusing that Hughes said he shot it in the widescreen format (the first and last time he ver did if memory serves) because he thought it was exactly the wrong thing to do.

permazorch said...

In high school I discovered a love for movies through Eraserhead and Blood Simple. I also discovered a hate through The Breakfast Club. John Hughes made many movies I've enjoyed, and on repeat viewings, too, but that one? Fuck. No.
I saw I was being sold a bill of goods, that someone was taking the very real pain I was passing through at age 17 and turning it into the most facile of pablum. It ends with my love from WarGames, Ally Sheedy, being assimilated into the hell of normalcy. My high school adopted the title to Saturday morning detention, and yes, I was a member on one occasion, so from insult to injury, baby.
Of course, that was a long time ago, so maybe I should give that number another viewing.
I'm sorry he died, especially at such a relatively young age, and I wish he'd staged a comeback, given us some bonafides, but I'm more sorry for the survivors who loved him better than I, because it's their grief that matters to me. You and yours matter a great deal to me, Bill Chambers.

The Kid In The Front Row said...

Thanks for writing this.

Anonymous said...

I grew up with John Hughes' screenplays, rather than his films proper--the first two Home Alone films, especially. But my high school years were more or less culturally bookended by Columbine and 9/11, and at the time I think I regarded John Hughes' directorial efforts with a sort of ironic detachment at how things had changed in the intervening years: this idea that a boy could bring a flare gun to school and "get away" with a Saturday detention seemed distractingly absurd. Not to mention, of course, that I was into Kevin Smith in a big, big way at that time, and his whole jive about how silly and mawkish and--worst of all--fictional those films were jaded me like nobody's business.

Between all of that and "Family Guy," I guess you can blame my generation for the unfounded nostalgic hostility that '80s teen culture enjoys today. Lord knows that I'm still not completely immune to that mentality either. But let me tell you something--it didn't take long before Comedy Central started showing Ferris Bueller's Day Off and something just clicked there. Skipping school, going on adventures with your friends and massive parties built around the Beatles' "Twist and Shout." Which was right then just about everything I wanted out of life. How did they know? Smith's teenager chic undoubtedly had a hand in molding me--but shit, man, I don't think I ever felt more in sync with a filmmaker than I did when I saw Ferris Bueller. That moment definitely helped in setting me on a different path.

Never even thought about that 'till Hughes died. So, you know, I'm really glad we've got folks like Bill around to help resuscitate that legacy.

Patrick said...

Man, how great was Carpenter at the time? Here's his 80s filmography: The Fog, Escape from New York, The Thing, Christine, Starman, Big Trouble in Little China, Prince of Darkness, They Live. Put aside Christine, and even discounting the latter two B-entertainments, that's quite a pedigree.

Andrei said...

This kind of gutted me. I expect you may have a similar reaction:

Aion kinah said...

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