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A Eulogy for John Hughes

August 7, 2009

“Do you realize that if we played by the rules right now, we’d be in gym?”

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986

A few months ago, I caught writer/director John Hughes’ immortal The Breakfast Club replaying on HBO in the middle of the night. Though the film can be found intermittently on basic cable, often with outrageously nonsensical edits over the moments of profanity, there was something glorious about watching it unedited and in its natural state, without commercials. I hadn’t watched the film that way in a long time, and it made me remember what a true masterpiece it was — not only because it took me back to 1985, when I first watched it as the movie’s intended target, but because as an adult it made even more sense. It was a film about high school, made for high schoolers, which spoke to them as adults, in their own languages. Because, as Hughes always seemed to be telling us, the rules don’t change as you grow older. The Breakfast Club‘s themes hold just as tightly to the adult world I live in today as they did when I was in middle school.

John Hughes’ canon of films, laser focused at an entire generation of adolescents without pandering to them with horror or explosions, never won any awards. In fact, the only award Hughes is credited to having ever received was “Producer of the Year” in 1991 at the Las Vegas film convention ShoWest. That’s surprising, considering that the argument could be made that Hughes was not only one of the most prolific directors of the 80’s, but a director whose work will outlive so many of his contemporaries of the decade.

Each of Hughes’ films represented some aspect of growing up that other directors could never quite grasp on celluloid. The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink addressed the inherent and seemingly insurmountable caste systems of high school life. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off depicted the anarchic charge of youth to break free from the rigid rules set in place by the adults around him. Weird Science detailed the desire to be respected. Sixteen Candles focused on feelings of alienation and the power of the almighty crush; even the 1991 contemporary slapstick comedy masterpiece Home Alone had deeper themes of the need for family versus the longing for independence.

It was as if Hughes had some direct access into the brain of the generation X teen, some inexplicable way of remembering how it felt to be a youth himself, and no director since has truly duplicated Hughes’ ability to be an adult who could speak to teens in their own terms. He treated their problems both comically, allowing them to laugh at themselves, and seriously, sympathizing that he understood that their problems, to them, were very very real. In a decade where elsewhere in the cineplex directors clamored to draw teens through countless Police Academy movies or endless sequels to horror franchises, Hughes was entirely on a level of his own.

Hughes may have never won the awards. He will rarely be included in the Pollacks, Scorseses and Spielbergs of the latter half of the 20th century. But he will be remembered, quoted and fondly re-watched for years and years to come. Because as far as the pop cultural ethos goes, Hughes was a giant, an advisor,  a friend and a confidant to an entire generation of young people trying to not only find themselves, but cope with being a kid. Few will ever capture the same lightning he did, because John Hughes, the adult, never forgot how it felt to be the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, and the criminal.

Ladies and gentlemen, raise a glass for the great John Hughes, who died yesterday at age 59. While we may have never have known him, he most certainly knew us.

One Comment
  1. August 7, 2009 7:07 pm

    I loved those movies, sad to see another iconic figure pass away too soon!

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