“Oh, he’s very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.”
–Grace, “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off”
I was — and still am — one of those obnoxious kids that quotes films and TV shows endlessly. Lines from “The Simpsons” and Bill Murray flicks were always being recited from age eight, until, well … now.
My evolution from discussing and eventually evaluating moving images started with merely repeating lines. And nobody did it better for me than John Hughes. That is why Thursday’s announcement of his death has brought me great sadness.
An orator of adolescence, a humorist of homebodies and a writer of refined regularity, John Hughes left his unique mark on popular entertainment. “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Pretty in Pink,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Mr. Mom,” “Weird Science,” “Home Alone,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” and my perennial fave, “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off,” are just a sample of this guy’s work. John Hughes is crucial to our American generation.
Now, before quickly concluding that his movies were aimed at 1980s angst-ridden teens in the Northern suburbs of Chicago, hold on a second. For one thing, his films still hold amazingly true. He made rubber-band reality acceptable, vacillating from outrageous comedy one second to terribly serious the next. We’ve all felt capable of identifying with his films on some level.
And, yes, I’m from the Northern suburbs of Chicago, but bear with me. He really meant something.
Hughes was born in Lansing, MI. After migrating to Northbrook, IL, he graduated from Glenbrook North High School in 1968 and went on to work at the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency until he was 29. In the 1970s, he began writing for The National Lampoon Magazine, only to eventually be plucked for movie writing. His first writing credits were for a little remembered “Animal House” spin-off show, but his big break came in 1983.
Hughes grabbed sole writing credits as well as credibility with his Michigan-centric “Mr. Mom” (all the more relevant economically) and “Vacation” (still so bombastically true of any trip).
In 1984, Hughes started directing which led to a string of teenage hits and his unfortunate labeling as patriarch of the “Brat Pack.” In 1984, “Sixteen Candles,” a true-ish glimpse at teen angst was released, and it’s still cute. Screw whatever Harold and Kumar said.
When “Weird Science” (1985) and “Breakfast Club” (1985) came out, he shared the fantasies and realities of growing up.
“Ferris Bueller” (1986) followed, which I still consider his greatest work. It was total entertainment, a teenage dream, Chicago travelogue, lead-acting showcase, soundtrack sensation and all-around uber-quotable work, “Bueller” showed Hughes as a person entirely in touch with the American public. I’m sure it will hit Comedy Central again tomorrow.
Too bad I never lived it. I’m still waiting for a friend with his dad’s Ferrari. Sniffle.
Other great films like “Uncle Buck” and “Plains, Trains” would come soon after, but his youth dramas are the pieces that Hughes will be remembered for. Frank, but not exploitative. Funny, but never stupid. Sexual, but never sleazy. Honest, but never boring. Hughes’ movies just worked.
On a personal note, his death hit me strongly, as his movies were like the bread and butter of my childhood. I grew up in the suburbs he depicted, and always had that extra connect with Hughes.
Like I said, I quoted:
When I was frustrated, I would quote Cameron from “Ferris” when he sits in car and repeats that “he’ll keep callin’ me.”
Whenever happy, I’ll often recite the offensively loveable Long Duk Dong from “Sixteen Candles.”
When my sister wants to mock a girlfriend it’s “Buzz’s girlfriend! Woof!” from “Home Alone”
My brother can recite whole passages of “Buck.”
And just to laugh or be a little surreal, I’ll think of my own boyhood fanstasies of subservient, exciting girls like “Weird Science.” I’m suburban like that, and Hughes just got it. Everybody liked his movies, and it was OK to not argue over him.
That’s what he meant to me. Between graduating and not watching his stuff of late, it really feels like a piece of growing up has been taken away.
Reports say that Hughes had a heart attack in Manhattan while visiting family. Hughes is survived by four grandchildren, two sons and his wife of 39 years Nancy. He was a hard-working, gifted Midwesterner that will be missed by many.
He was a “righteous dude” of American cinema.