Much Ado About...

Something “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention” Quick, name the most important filmmaker of the past 25 years. Scorsese? Spielberg? Lucas? How about Tarantino? Soderbergh? The Coen Bros? Spike Lee? Ang Lee? Not a bad bunch of guys. Some fine work, sure. But wrong. Let me cut to the chase, and dispel all the lies and falsehood. The most important filmmaker of the past twenty-five years? The Frank Capra of the X, Next and Star Wars Generations? Drum roll please… John Hughes. You heard me. John Hughes. For those of you under the age of 25, you may be thinking, “who the hell is John Hughes?” For those of you over 25, the response may be, “did he just say John Hughes?” Well yes, I just did. John Hughes. The most important filmmaker of the past 25 years. How do ya like them apples? You may be aware of some of his work. You may even be square enough to know that Mr. Hughes is responsible for Curly Sue. But the full scope of his work? His immense success during the period of 1983 to 1990? The power and majesty of his cinematic world? I doubt it. So let me drop some science: John Hughes as Writer: Home Alone (1990) Christmas Vacation (1989) Uncle Buck (1989) The Great Outdoors (1988) She's Having a Baby (1988) Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) Pretty in Pink (1986) Weird Science (1985) European Vacation (1985) The Breakfast Club (1985) Sixteen Candles (1984) Nate and Hayes (1983) Vacation (1983) Mr. Mom (1983) Citizen Kane (1941)

John Hughes as Director: Uncle Buck (1989) She's Having a Baby (1988) Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) Weird Science (1985) The Breakfast Club (1985) Sixteen Candles (1984) John Hughes as Producer: Home Alone (1990) Christmas Vacation (1989) Uncle Buck (1989) The Great Outdoors (1988) She's Having a Baby (1988) Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) Pretty in Pink (1986) The Breakfast Club (1985) Impressive, isn’t it? Even without the writing credits for Citizen Kane, which I fabricated to cover up for Nate and Hayes (which even I have never heard of). Sixteen writing credits in seven years ain’t too shabby, especially when about eleven of those are modern cinematic classics. Not only did Hughes write seminal works like Uncle Buck, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club, he also directed and produced them. All in a seven-year span. That is an amazing amount of work in such a short period of time, especially when we are talking about works of such quality. I was going to watch every one of these movies over again, for research purposes. I thought it might provide me with a clearer understanding of Hughes’ excellence, and that consequently I could present a better case. But I have come to the conclusion that this is unnecessary. The legacy of Hughes is permanently imprinted on my brain, in the same manner of a medieval peasant with The Holy Bible or a lonely housewife with Cagney and Lacey. It is a part of me. I cannot escape it, no matter how hard I don’t try. And my point, really, is that this also applies to you. The work of John Hughes has so permeated our popular culture that we take it for granted. We accept his influence without even knowing where it came from. No other filmmaker of the past 25 years has so strongly shaped the zeitgeist. Do I sound crazy? Do I sound mad? Allow me to explain. First off, Hughes created a veritable pantheon of Hollywood stars. In this age of celebrity, where the cult of personality reigns supreme, Hughes has launched more acting careers than Peyton Manning has touchdowns. Scorsese launched Deniro, and Lucas launched Ford, but Hughes launched many, many more, including a group of actors who have

come to define a generation. He launched Michael Keaton with Mr. Mom, a man whose career was so meteoric he was cast, of all things, as Batman (the irony being that this killed his career, forcing him into starring in a movie with television static). There was also Macaulay Culkin, who became the richest and most famous child actor in the world thanks to Uncle Buck and the Home Alone franchise. How about Matthew Broderick, a nobody until he starred in a little piece of magic known as Ferris Beuller’s Day Off ? Hughes also did wonders for three comedy veterans: Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and John Candy. Each of their careers were revitalized and rejuvenated by the Master. And what about the Brat Pack, whom Hughes William-H.-Bonneyed with the titanic movie The Breakfast Club? Anthony Michael Hall. Judd Nelson. Ally Sheedy. Emilio Estevez. The divine Molly Ringwald. Throw in Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer, Robert Downey Jr., James Spader, Kevin Bacon, Lea Thompson, Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterston and the previously mentioned Broderick, and you have a who’s-who list of the teen actors of the 1980’s. All of these actors worked with Hughes. For many, it was the work that defined their careers. Hughes’ second success was in his ability to create for the 80’s crowd, the "Me" generation, a positive conception of mid-western suburbia. Anyone who knows Hughes’ work knows that almost all of his movies are set in the Chicago area. In fact, many of the stories occur in Shermer, Illinois, a fictional town based on Hughes’ own hometown of Northbrook. It is through this constant viewing of Shermer, with its wide streets, big brick houses, and all white neighborhoods (except for that adorable exchange student, Long Duk Dong), that we have come to understand the middle-class American and his humble home. It is a view that is overwhelmingly positive. Hughes creates a world for his characters that is stable and certain: a nice nuclear family, complete with a big house, a nice car, and a fantastic set of Cosby sweaters. Nothing ever really goes wrong in Hughes’ suburbia, and nothing ever will. Even in Home Alone, when poor Kevin McCallister is left to fight off those horrible space invaders, the audience is never asked to doubt that family and community will do anything other than protect him. The cinematic world of Hughes is a giant womb of honesty, integrity, and hard work. And the beauty is, a whole generation of audiences have grown up longing for the world Hughes portrayed. If you think I am exaggerating, drive out to one of the trillion new exurbs that are popping up on the outskirts of every major North American centre. We may pretend otherwise, but Terwilliger Towne is the deep dark summum bonum of the modern soul. Hughes’ third contribution to the zeitgeist runs contrary to the second. Teen Angst doesn’t seem to fit into the idyllic picture I just painted. What is important here, however, is how one qualifies the notion of Teen Angst. Because the T&A of John Hughes isn’t the T&A of Romeo & Juliet, or even the T&A of James Dean. No one poisons themselves or gouges out their eyes after sleeping with mom. The Teen Angst of John Hughes is one born right out of the Platonic form of middle-class life seen in Shermer, Illinois. It is angst spawned by boredom and privilege. Don’t get me wrong, the kids of The Breakfast Club aren’t silver-spooned yuppies whining about going to prep school and being unable to locate their dealer. This isn’t a Bret Easton Ellis novel. But they don’t exactly lead

terrible lives, do they? No one is starving. No one is being beaten. At the worst, at the absolute worst, these kids feel unloved. More often than not, what is really driving their misery is the overwhelmingly acute notion that they are utterly, and entirely, misunderstood. Sound familiar? In The Invention of the Human, critic Harold Bloom argues that the works of Shakespeare-the morals, values, and emotions within plays like King Lear, Romeo & Juliet and Henry IV-have so permeated Western culture that, quite literally, Shakespeare has invented the modern human (it is a bold assertion, and one that is in fact defended quite articulately). It is my contention that John Hughes, through his work, has invented the modern teenager. We see his legacy everyday, in television shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and The OC, where we are asked to feel sympathy for the downtrodden kids from…Beverly Hills and Orange County. We hear it in the music of Avril Lavigne. All are examples of teenagers leading their tough, boring lives, compromised not so much by hardship as by the monotony of ease. These people are angry about being misunderstood, and misunderstood because they are so angry. Essentially, Hughes has given us one Ferris Beuller on film, and millions and millions of Cameron Fryes loitering the malls of North America. This may seem like a lot of praise for a guy who made movies with Anthony Michael Hall. And he is responsible for those damn Beethoven movies. Yet I can’t help but think that I wouldn’t be who I am today without John Hughes. I can’t say that for any other filmmaker. Cameron Crowe is close, but Crowe doesn’t speak for a generation. He speaks to a small, select group of snobby individuals like...well, like myself. Hughes’ work is middle-class and middle American. As such, it reaches a greater audience, and begets a greater influence. Really, the work of John Hughes is the art of the Everyman. And in a democratic age such as ours, this is art par excellence. And so, despite loving many filmmakers and many of their films, I am left with no other conclusion than the one I began with: John Hughes is the most important filmmaker of the past 25 years. Eat your heart out, David Lynch.

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