Friday, August 7, 2009

John Hughes • 1950-2009

The death of John Hughes is surprising, but it hasn't really gotten to me, even after I realized that my friends, co-workers, family and I quote something from one of his movies every goddamn day.

It seems like John Hughes has already been dead for years. He hasn't directed a movie since "Curly Sue" in 1991, and that's not exactly one you remember him for, is it? In some ways, John Hughes was like the 1980s movie equivalent of The Beatles -- his work was so important to so many, and it was accomplished over so short a time.

Nearly every teen comedy since "Ferris Bueller" owes some kind of debt to John Hughes' body of work, with the possible exception of "Juno." (You might not like Diablo Cody's writing, but you can't deny it is uniquely hers.) Have the generations that followed us been given movies anywhere near the caliber of "The Breakfast Club" or "Sixteen Candles"? No, and it's terrible that John didn't further share his genius with the kids that came after "Ferris."

And he was a genius. I have "Ferris Bueller" on as I'm writing this, and I continue to be awed by its perfection. It's the kind of movie where almost every line of dialogue is funny, and Hughes the director helps Hughes the screenwriter every step of the way; check out the scene where Ben Stein lectures on the Hawley-Smoot tariff, and watch the cuts between the close-ups of his dumbfounded students. It's just perfectly timed, perfectly acted, and just ... right. It's as airtight and well-constructed as "Back to the Future."

One of the happiest memories of my moviegoing life is seeing "Ferris" at a midnight revival screening at the AMC 30 South Barrington. The sold-out crowd laughed hysterically, applauded enthusiastically, and even clapped along to "Twist & Shout." I had a genuine chill-up-the-spine moment in that screening: Ed Rooney tells who he thinks is Ferris Bueller to "pucker up, buttercup." His secretary comes in and says, "FERRIS BUELLER ON LINE TWO!" The camera pushes in on Rooney, horrified, as a musical stinger blasts the audience. The theater went apeshit with cheering and applause. We all knew it was coming, and we all loved it.

I don't know exactly why John Hughes decided to leave the film industry behind -- one might guess it has something to do with fallout from the incredible success of "Home Alone," which he wrote for director Chris Columbus -- but I hope he found happiness out on his Harvard, Ill., farm. He sure didn't sound happy on the DVD commentary he recorded a few years back for "Ferris."

If there's one movie you need to watch again in the wake of the news, it's "Planes, Trains & Automobiles." When you hear "John Hughes," you think first of his teen flicks, and "PT&A" kinda gets lost in the shuffle, which is a shame. Steve Martin and John Candy probably give the best performances of their careers in that film, another that Hughes both wrote and directed. You know "Ferris" and "Weird Science" by heart; reacquaint yourself with Del Griffith and Neal Page.

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