Destroy Ferris

So, you know John Hughes just died. Everybody knows that John Hughes just died. Almost everyone my age is talking about how sad it was and talking about the movies it’s made them remember.

I haven’t been doing that. Not because Hughes’ death didn’t bring back memories for me, but because it did. I was a suburban teenager who didn’t fit the mold. I should have been his target audience. I just didn’t like his movies much.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s still too soon to talk about them, but I’m going to do it anyway.

John Hughes put together great soundtracks. Pretty in Pink has one of the two best soundtracks from the Eighties and the best title song. “This Woman’s Work,” from She’s Having a Baby is just a great song. And as far as I can tell, all the music was commissioned for the films.

He didn’t flinch from geekdom. It wasn’t prettied up, Hollywood geekdom in his movies, or at least, not all of it. Hughes’s geekdom was awkward and painful. It was played for laughs, but they were always at least half-sympathetic laughs, which was rare at the time.

He didn’t do issue films or bright, fluffy teen romances. He captured the pain of trivialities and the lack of perspective of teenagers. His parents weren’t monsters, just caught up in their own lives. Still and all, I never watched a John Hughes film that didn’t make me uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons.

What reasons? There are the stereotypes, of course. Kids don’t fit neatly into Breakfast Club types, and no, they never broke out of their types in the movie, either. They just talked to each other. And then there is that inexplicable blues bar scene in Weird Science. Huh?

The rewards were all screwed up, too, particularly in the romances. Hughes made some good points in his movies about popularity and wealth, but he almost never followed through (Some Kind of Wonderful being an exception, but by the time that came out, I was so distrustful of Hughes that I didn’t watch it). If you’re a poor or awkward or abused kid, what’s your happy ending? Romance with a rich or popular kid. Whee.

I knew better. I knew it wasn’t going to happen to me, and more than that, I knew I didn’t want it to. The rich, popular kids around me were dull, and frankly, they weren’t very nice even when their friends weren’t around egging them on. Oh, there were popular kids who were nice and funny, but they never ran with the popular crowd. They were popular because everybody liked them, not because they went to the right parties and hung with the right people.

Characters were rewarded for being popular, too. In what kind of screwed-up world does Ferris Bueller create problems for all the decent people around him and still get them to not just cover for him at their own expense but stay friendly toward him too? In what ugly universe is it good for Cameron to have his spinelessness taken advantage of? But hey, Bueller’s everybody’s hero, so whatever it takes for him to have fun must be right. Right? After all, he’s a rebel.

Of course, everybody was a rebel. Not for any particular reason beyond “The adults don’t understand,” but a rebel nonetheless. Better than that, a rebel without consequences.

Now, I was all for rebellion. Rebellion pretty much saved my life, because conformity was impossible. But my rebellion found reasons and issues to shape itself around, and it cost me. None of the kids in John Hughes movies ever stood up for something instead of merely against it, and they barely stood up at all. For all their strikes against the authoritarian adults around them, they didn’t confront them, only avoided them.

And that is why, for all that I own a couple of John Hughes movies, for all that Jon Cryer will always be Duckie to me, I’m always going to be disappointed by his work as a whole.

5 Responses to “Destroy Ferris”

  1. August 14th, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Part of the reason that I never cared for most of John Hughes’ movies, is that it seemed like he (and his protege Chris Columbus) were trying to hard to create a new genre of films that were more or less series of vignettes and sketches tied together with a loose plot. To me it always seemed like he was an LA Film School student with a huge budget, who had a bunch of writers he didn’t allow to talk to each other. They just sent him bits and he stitched them together while making the film.

    Of course, it may also be that his films were released when I was no longer in high school, and I was just too old to “get it.”

  2. August 14th, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Leo Lincourt says:

    In Hughes’ original version of Pretty In Pink, Andie chooses Duckie. Then the film was test screened in front of focus groups and they were disappointed that Andie didn’t pick Blane. So the cast was called back in and the ending hastily re-shot. I wonder to what extent Hughes’ films are the way they are because that’s what society expected them to be. I also wonder about the age ranges included in those focus groups.

    Further, I think they were a reflection of the ’80s. It was morning in America after all and we all thought there was a bigger, brighter future awaiting us. Even those of us who despised and saw through Reagan’s rhetoric. Isn’t that part of being a teen though? We all thought we were invincible and the world would bend to our will.

    Hughes’ films are problematic to be sure, but for all their problems I think they are special precisely because Hughes didn’t paint his characters as modernized 1950s Stepford teens. For those of us coming of age when these films came out, these were characters we could identify with. I don’t know anyone who wanted to be Duckie or Gary or Wyatt (except to have Kelly LeBrock as a live-in girl friend) but I don’t think anyone mistook any of his characters as role models. Nor do I think the happy, happy endings deceived any of us.

    Oh, and I agree. The soundtracks were awesome.

    Now… I wonder what you think of the Savage Steve Holland films Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer?

  3. August 14th, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Rystefn says:

    In fairness, I haven’t been a teenager for a rather long time, and I still think I’m invincible and the world will bend to my will…

  4. August 14th, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Leo, I only ever wanted to be Iona, and I love absurdist teen films. They give their audience so much more credit than almost anything else aimed at that age range.

    Part of my reaction may have been that I was pretty radical for a teen in the 80s. I was raised on 60s protest folk and Doonesbury from a pretty young age, so I wasn’t as much a product of my times as I might have been. And I certainly didn’t believe the world would bend to my will.

    Then again, I do tell people not to generalize using me as a starting point.

  5. August 14th, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    Leo Lincourt says:

    Stephanie, while I wasn’t raised on it I had a lot of nonconformist influences too. Doonesbury was certainly one of them. Doonesbury and Bloom County were the highlights of every morning. And because I had an incredibly progressive music teacher from 5th grade on, my musical influences were vast but I naturally ended up gravitating toward 1970s progressive rock. Oh Moody Blues and Yes, it took me years to shake off some of the woo in your songs.

    I think one reason Hughes’ films appealed so much to me was because I grew up in a very small town, and then was a complete outsider on top of that. I mean, I literally lived in a graveyard and on Friday nights when most kids my age were out drinking I was building electronic gizmos in the basement or doing incredibly foolhardy experiments (a Tesla Coil in a 16 yr old boy’s hands is a dangerous thing indeed). So I truly identified with Gary, Wyatt, and Duckie. Plus, they lived in suburban Chicago which seemed like the coolest place on Earth gauging from Hughes’ films. It made my small town seem like something out of the 1950s (and it was).

    Glad you liked the Savage Steve flicks. In many ways I think they were vastly superior to, and captured the essence of the 1980s much better than John Hughes.

SEO Powered by Platinum SEO from Techblissonline