Saturday, August 08, 2009

In Memoriam: John Hughes

I am almost at a loss to explain why the death of filmmaker John Hughes has hit me somewhat hard, but it has. He was not one of my chief artistic influences, nor is he a filmmaker that I cite in my classes often when I am showing great examples of cinematic storytelling (though this might change).

But when I heard about his death, a rush of memories flooded in this week. I was reminded of how a number of his films had touched me or caused me to laugh riotously. Or both.

Many people point to The Breakfast Club, a seminal 80s teen angst film. And it's one of his best, and a favorite of mine as well. It's a brilliant attempt to show how the stereotypes we all know so well are a product of conformity and fear. Yes, I probably saw a little of myself in the nerd played by Anthony Michael Hall, but more than that, I saw a little of myself in every one of the well-drawn and well-acted characters.

Pretty in Pink is another one that worked well for me. Its story of a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who finds love with a rich classmate might have a trite ending (and the wrong one, a fact that was rectified when Hughes told essentially the same story, with the gender roles reversed, in Some Kind of Wonderful), but the character played by Molly Ringwald was wonderful for her strength of character. She thrived on being different and didn't necessarily feel alienated by it. This film is close to my heart, too, because one of my closest friends in high school was so much like Molly Ringwald's character that I can't think of the film without thinking of her (wait, does that make my Ducky? I hope not...)

I was only 18 when She's Having a Baby came out, but I liked the film nonetheless, and as I've rewatched it over the years, it has resonated more and more with me as a picture of the journey many married couples take from the intense infatuation of youth to the maturity. It is probably my favorite John Hughes film and is, in my opinion, an underrated gem.

And I can't write this without mentioning Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, the first film I ever saw that made me literally laugh until I cried.

I don't really know what to write about John Hughes. This post clearly doesn't have a lot to say. But I do know that many of his films touched me deeply, and that few filmmakers had or have his gift for depicting what young people really think about, even if his characters are far more erudite and articulate than the average teenager.

Thank you, Mr. Hughes, for your fine work. And my condolences to his family.

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