Friday, August 07, 2009

Passings: John Hughes, director

John Hughes would've laughed off the notion, but in his own populist and unpretentious way he was the voice of a generation.

You'll likely hear variations of that statement echoed ad nauseum in the coming days and weeks, largely because like me so many writers, bloggers, and sitemasters grew up as part of that generation. But the endless repetition of that sentiment doesn't make it any less true.

I was gonna go all academic and analyze Hughes's work with typical Petri Dish microscope scrutiny, but such fussing almost seems to diminish it. The most moving tribute I've read thusfar, and the one that taps into the director's soul most deeply, comes from Alison Byrne Fields' excellent blog detailing her very personal connection with the director (Go read it now. But please come back, pretty please? Thanks. And thank you, Dean Saling). John Hughes largely made movies for kids, and none of them were what film cognoscenti would call masterpieces. But he captured the layers of adolescence--the unrequited crushes, the alternate rebellion against and obsession with fitting in, the inherent absurdist comedy that is high school life--like no filmmaker before or since.

Whether he was amusingly chronicling the days preceding winsome Molly Ringwald's sweet sixteen in Sixteen Candles, locking five high-school archetypes in detention 'til they bared their souls in The Breakfast Club, or injecting teen wish fulfillment with a hefty dose of surreal Marx Brothers hilarity in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Hughes always found a core of relatable truth in even the most broadly-drawn teenage stereotypes. And his sure-handed use of music in his soundtracks merits an essay in its own right (provided nicely by the LA Times' Todd Martens here. And thank you, Bob Suh).

Hughes's movies brim with memorable setpieces, but for me the most sublime of them lives at the end of Sixteen Candles. Molly Ringwald's crestfallen Samantha Baker looks up from the steps of her sister's wedding chapel to see her dream boy Jake (Michael Schoeffling) waiting for her; moments later there's a fade-in to the two of them bathed in lambent yellow light, talking above her birthday cake before they slowly kiss to the haunting strains of The Thompson Twins' "If You Were Here." If you're lucky you've been on one or both sides of that cake at least once in your life. And no one knew that better--or felt it more deeply--than John Hughes.

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