Friday, August 07, 2009

John Hughes (1950-2009)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

He wasn't a cinematic master, by any means, but he was one of the most distinctive American filmmakers of his generation, and it is indeed difficult to imagine American cinema in the '80s without him.

John Hughes died yesterday at the age of 59.

I was a bit too young, at the time, for his early seminal movies, such as Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and even Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) and Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), and yet I came to love the last two of those movies a great deal, especially Ferris Bueller, which I would rank among my favourite comedies ever -- I've seen it countless times and never tire of it.

And just consider some of the other movies he didn't direct but wrote, classics of the time like Vacation (1983), Pretty in Pink (1986), and Home Alone (1990) (another movie that, however silly, I never seem to tire of, and that I'll watch whenever I happen upon it on TV).

No, there aren't any great films there -- no one would ever mistake Hughes for Scorsese or Coppola or Lumet -- but he captured, or indeed helped to manufacture, the youth zeitgeist in a way that far exceeded anyone else of that era. Wall Street may be the definitive American movie, if far from the best, of the '80s, in terms of capturing what that decade was all about, but, looking back, Ferris Bueller is as much an icon, and a far more likeable one, as Gordon Gekko. As with so many of Hughes's memorable characters, Bueller is both a product of the time and universal. It was a more innocent time, perhaps, at least in the way Hughes depicted it, but the appeal is precisely that we could all, and can all still, relate to John Hughes's universe.

His work had tailed off badly in the '90s, and he hadn't done much in recent years, but it is to his prime -- 1983-1990 -- that we turn, and it is with sadness that I learned of his death.


Go back and watch -- or re-watch for the umpteenth time -- some of those classics. Hughes influenced so many of today's leading cinematic comedians, like Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith, but his movies still stand tall on their own, these many years later.

To quote Ferris: "Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself."

There, in a nutshell, is the philosophy of John Hughes, the essence of the movies of our youth.

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