Thursday, August 6, 2009

Goodnight, John Boy

The man that is in no small part responsible for my formative years and the person I have become as an adult has left us.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. –
Ferris Bueller
 Earlier today John Hughes died. The man who either wrote, produced or directed (often all three) the scope of my teenage experience, the man who captured on film the very heart and soul of ‘who we were when’ is gone. And even though he hasn’t directed a movie since 1991, I feel his passing very deeply, and I am beyond sad.

Those of us who were teenagers in the 1980s are forever imprinted with his work. To this day if I refer to an old crush, I am likely to say “He was my Jake Ryan of the moment.” that Sixteen Candles icon of male perfection. (With the slight exception of loaning out his passed-out-drunk girlfriend as a sex toy to someone she’d never met, and by the way EWW!, but still…the cake and the kiss made us forgive him that slight foible. The Porsche and the brooding good looks didn’t hurt his case either.)

If my friends and I go to a sushi restaurant, inevitably someone will say “You won’t accept a guy’s tongue in your mouth, but you’re going to eat that?”, quoting the irreverent John Bender from The Breakfast Club as played with nostril-flaring precision by Judd Nelson.

“What about prom, Blaine?” is the classic Pretty in Pink response to anyone blowing off plans last minute, and extra points if you nail Molly Ringwald’s teeth clenching, locker banging, girl power voice.

Music, fashion, and pop culture after 1984 were defined in large part by his oeuvre, and my generation still connects on very basic levels to his stories. I own all of his classics on DVD, and if I am having a bad day, nothing perks me up as quickly as popping one in and visiting with old friends. From the holy trinity of the Brat Pack SC/PIP/TBC, to quieter gems like Some Kind Of Wonderful or classic knee slappers like Weird Science, John Hughes just got us. He knew what it meant to be an outsider, and the price you pay to be an insider. He knew about unrequited love that threatens to tear you apart from the inside, and that requited love isn’t necessarily all it is cracked up to be either at that age. He knew our secret souls and dreams and guilty pleasures, and he didn’t slick them up or package them to feed to us.

In a time when the culture of television and movies aimed at teenagers seems to be entirely about telling them who they are supposed to want to be instead of reflecting who they actually are, his voice, his keen eye, and his honest and respectful characterizations are much missed. Where are the teenagers today on film who have the same diversity of look as did our Molly, Ally, Anthony, Judd, Eric, Mary Stuart, Lea et al? Maybe I am showing my age, but if you lined up all the current teeny-bopper starlets I wouldn’t begin to be able to tell them apart, they are an endless blur of flat-ironed extensions, size zero skinny jeans, and gladiator sandals. Where are the supporting characters that are more than just background furniture? Where is a Joan Cusack struggling with her back brace, or an Elias Koteas carving a “picture of what my girlfriend would look like without skin” into the top of a detention desk? The rare piece like Juno is the exception that proves the rule, and a surprise sleeper hit. But movies like that were John Hughes bread and butter, and in their day, they were big releases and blockbuster hits.

When a girlfriend was getting ready to marry a gentleman of British descent, we abducted him for a weekend and made him watch Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in one day, none of which he had ever seen. When we finished he said simply about his fiancĂ©e “I feel like I finally really know you completely.” Which had been the entire point. You can’t know us completely without those road maps, without the Cliff’s Notes that John Hughes provided.

For those of us who live in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs where Hughes set his movies, the loss is even more poignant. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was as much a love letter to the city we inhabit as it was a clarion call to people to wake up and smell the Chagall.

Hughes’ work would never receive awards. And yet, if you ask almost anyone who actually came of age during the time of his coming of age films, he is the most influential film writer and director of our lives.

We are now all either in our late thirties or early forties. We have married and divorced. We have had children and lost parents. We have attended 20 Year Reunions at the high schools he had such a razor eye for capturing. We have built careers, advanced science and medicine and law. And yet, at the very core of our beings, each one of us is still “a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal”.

And each one of us owes something essential to John Hughes.

Life moves pretty fast, indeed.

From the bottom of my heart John, I wish you Godspeed, with the thanks of a generation. And to his family and friends, you are not alone in your grief. We are out here. And our prayers and thoughts are with you.


  1. Very nice, Stacey. We shall all miss him and his contributions to understanding what it means to be a human being. Cheers!

  2. Quite so. A very sad loss for all of us. It is like hearing that a old friend you lost touch with has passed away. I count myself fortunate to share with so many people the lifetime of memories that his films gave us. Very sad, indeed.

  3. Perfectly written, yet so sad. His movies defined my teen years, also known at the 80s. Pretty in Pink remains my favorite, however, Some Kind of Wonderful also holds a special place in my heart. And who cannot love Sixteen Candles?? Like your friend, when I married my husband, he had never seen any of the "Molly Ringwald" movies, so we had John Hughes Film Festival. His films are, and always will be, classics.

  4. You are so right on.

    So. Right. On.

  5. Wow...this is a perfect tribute to Hughes' impact on our generation. Thank you for putting to words what I felt.

  6. Interesting insight into your generation. As a Boomer, I enjoyed the movies but they didn't have the same meaning for me. They weren't "The Graduate" or "American Graffiti." Still, you gave me a perspective I had never thought about before. I may have to see the movies again. But three gone in one day - so sad - and all way too young to go.

  7. Thanks for posting this - I agree with everyone else that your post really sums it all up. BTW - did you see this blog post from the woman who was "pen pals" with John Hughes? Really neat story!

  8. Of all the articles I've read today on John Hughes, you have captured the very essence of what he meant to our generation. Beautiful post.

    My friends and I would squeal with delight every time Jake Ryan came on screen.

  9. That is exactly how I felt all day, Stacey. And I hadn't even checked your blog - a friend from college had caught it and already posted it to his Facebook page.

    I will always remember sneaking around New Trier West back when he used it as a studio to film Home Alone, Uncle Buck, Curly Sue and others. I'd hide up in the bleachers and watch them film, and watch the dailies in the auditorium through the crack between the balcony doors.

    When I first moved to the northern burbs and new no one, but had a car. I drove around looking for all the filming locations, and as a result learned the geography of roads well.

    I'm a huge fan - thank you for writing the tributeI couldn't.

  10. The best written tribute I have seen, though I'll forgive your blatant lack of reference to Abe Froman, sausage king of chicago. Though he has been out of the spotlight for many years, his movies live on & within us. Great blog.

  11. You have captured his essence perfectly. None of us will forget the impact his movies have had.

  12. Wonderfully said! Nicely written.

  13. Thank you all so much for your kind words...and especially to those of you who have linked to this post on your facebook pages or mentioned it in your own blogs, I really appreciate it!

  14. Nice post! As a fellow teen of the '80s, I will always have a special place in my heart for Mr. Hughes and his movies. I love that his words are still part of the vernacular of my generation. (And I'm glad to know there's someone else out there who was troubled by the passing off of the blacked-out girlfriend in "Sixteen Candles" -- I love the movie, but even at 14, I was troubled by that.)

  15. This gave me goosebumps, thanks for writing such a lovely tribute

  16. I've never regretted being born in 1985 as much as I do at this very moment. I had a babysitter who was an 80's teen rent Ferris Bueller for me when I was much younger, and to this day, it remains one of my all-time favorites. Wonderful piece!

  17. you just brought a tear to my eye. you captured everything I think and feel about JH. Thanks for this. I have yet to post about him on my blog bc I am not sure it will come even remotely close to what I feel. Yours did. thank you thank you. check out my blog and check out this piece on Hughes... you will LOVE it.