the legacy of John Hughes
It should come as no surprise that director/writer/producer John Hughes is hugely responsible for my being a pop culture junkie. His biggest films were staples of my teen years, the first movies I saw that seemed to speak to and about my generation. And Hughes introduced me to actors who have remained favorites throughout my life. These actors, in fact, were some of my first celebrity interests, and since the ’80s were also a time of teen gossip magazines, I had plenty of opportunities to follow their lives, as it were. Though I loved movies long before John Hughes, it was his work that changed the way I saw them. I’d even go so far as to say that Hughes films took my great love of movies and catapulted it into an obsession. I’ve never been the same since.
It all began, of course, with Sixteen Candles, in which I first met ’80s teen queen Molly Ringwald, the incredibly awesome and geeky Anthony Michael Hall, and one-off crush Michael Schoeffling. I saw the film again and again and again, and like most others my age, could quote most of the great moments verbatim. Though I didn’t remember him until a few years later, Sixteen Candles also introduced me to John Cusack. I’ll always be indebted to Hughes for this above all else.
Despite the greatness of Sixteen Candles, it was certainly The Breakfast Club that spoke to me the most. Never before had I seen a film that told the truth about school cliques, about the deeply felt angst of a teenager, and about how much easier it is to make a judgment about someone instead of discovering who that person really is below the surface. And The Breakfast Club was honest about the fact that even when we realize our prejudice and wish things were different, it still doesn’t change the way we act on a daily basis. We would certainly hope to become different people, but the realities of high school dictate that we probably follow our crowd even when we don’t agree with them. It’s a harsh truth — harsher still for those of us standing on the fringes — but it’s reality, and John Hughes didn’t sugar-coat it. I’ve never realized just how important that was to my 16-year-old psyche until now. Hughes’s movies helped me understand that I wasn’t the only one who felt so alone. And that was a saving grace at the time.
But above all others, for me, is Some Kind of Wonderful. To this day, in all of the films and tv series I’ve watched in my lifetime, there is no one cooler than Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson in Wonderful. The film, the story, the characters never get tired. It all continues to resonate — with me and with generations of kids who follow. In every sense of the word, it’s a classic. But it’s not the plot that make it so special. It’s the heart of the film, the depth of the friendship between the two main characters played by Stoltz and Masterson. Their subtle performances interject layers that can’t be written into any script, and there has never been another film that captivated me in quite the same way. Some Kind of Wonderful reminded me that sometimes my dreams have been staring me in the face the whole time, if only I’d look a little closer to home.
The list of Hughes classics goes on and on: from the legendary characters in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to the perfect soundtrack (and wardrobe!) of Pretty in Pink, from the brilliance of the Vacation and Home Alone series to the unexpected depth of Dutch. My lifelong entertainment interests were almost single-handedly shaped by John Hughes. My love of actors is a direct result of loving the people he cast in his films. Maybe I would have discovered some of them on my own eventually, but what would life be like without Jon Cryer’s Duckie, or the Breakfast Club gang of Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez and the inimitable Anthony Michael Hall? I owe John Hughes for introducing me to the incredible Elias Koteas in Some Kind of Wonderful. And we all owe the man for the creation of Uncle Buck. Hughes is truly an icon to those of us who grew up in neon-colored t-shirts and leg warmers worn over our jeans. He told the rest of the world what life was like for teenagers at that time, and I believe his message is still relevant today.
A sad farewell to a visionary. Here’s hoping someone can follow in his footsteps for future generations.
images via Internet Movie Database and River Blue