Friday, August 7, 2009

John Hughes, influential 1980s writer, director and Gen-X giant, dead at 59

Aug. 7, 2009
Posted by Noah

I certainly would never intend to do Hollywood obits two days in a row, but the announcement yesterday about the untimely demise, at the tender age of 59, of writer and director John Hughes caught me off guard. It has, like the death the day before of Budd Schulberg, made front page news across the Web, TV, radio and most any outlet you can think of, and it's definitely a bit of a shocker.

John Hughes? Really? Really? John Hughes?

I was, without question, a teenager of the 1980s, the direct audience of John Hughes' seminal teen comedies. I remember seeing 16 Candles at Prestonwood Mall here in Dallas, and I remember seeing The Breakfast Club at the movie theater in Sakowitz Plaza, just across the street from Prestonwood. Those North Dallas classics are long gone, as is Mr. Hughes, and with all of them go one more piece of my misspent, though entertaining, youth.

If, 25 years later, Hughes' teen comedies ring a bit cheesy, it's of no matter - they are still infinitely watchable, at least to most of Gen-X. His tales of misfits and miscreants, all on an eternal quest for love, sex and understanding - not necessarily in that order - are timeless and, as Molly Ringwald, as Claire, says in The Breakfast Club, "We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all."

Well said, and certainly true of most of us who came of age in the confusing go-go 1980s, a generation out of place if ever there was one.

There is also some John Hughes history here at Heritage, though it did not fare as well at auction as it did at the box office. While Hughes' movies made hundreds of millions of dollars, so far the prices on posters, lobby cars and signed stills from his move have yet to break the three figure range, though I have a feeling that is probably going to change right now. The top lot is a Ferris Beuller's Day Off poster, which brought $74 just 10 days ago. Good call, for sure. There are a few autographed posters, and a very cool signed photo by the cast of The Breakfast Club, which brought $40 two years ago and would certainly go for more today.

It should also be said that Hughes had a wonderful gift for music in his movies, for mixing old and new and for capturing the not-quite-so mainstream side of 1980s new wave music. While I gravitated a little more to the punk rock side of things during the Hughes heyday, I did always have a weak spot for several of the bands he used to excellent effect in his movies, particularly Simply Red's Don't You Forget About Me from The Breakfast Club, The Thompson Twins' If You Were Here in 16 Candles, and most effectively the now seminal Pretty In Pink, from the movie of the same name, from one of my favorite 1980s bands, The Psychedelic Furs, which was a less experimental version of the pioneering and still awesome 1980s outfit Bauhaus (If you're a fan of the band then I need say nothing more).

Hughes' lasting legacy will most likely be the Home Alone movies (which I always remember by the French title, Maman, J'ai Rate L'avion, because it was released while I was a student in Paris. It means "Mom, I missed the airplane!) and perhaps the screenplay for National Lampoon's Vacation. To me, his lasting legacy will be that he made a generation of so-so young actors famous and got excellent performances out of them even though their talent was not that deep - for the most part. Think about it, who of his Brat Pack has really gone on to lasting cinematic glory? Not a one of his regulars… that doesn't count Matthew Broderick or Kevin Bacon, of course, who were in only one film of his apiece.

Yes, this early Dallas Friday morning, as the sun is coming up, the hot water is making the pipes in the kitchen clank and my daughter stirs in her room and I hear her whispering to her stuffed dog, Coo, I am keenly aware as a piece of my youth skitters into the abyss even as it sings Don't You Forget About Me.

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-Noah Fleisher

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