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The Auteurs Daily: John Hughes, 1950 - 2009


The Auteurs Daily

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

"John Hughes, director of culturally significant films such as The Breakfast ClubFerris Bueller's Day Off and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, died suddenly today of a heart attack while taking a morning walk during a trip to Manhattan," reports Pat Saperstein in Variety. "He was 59."

Back in March 2008, the Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein wrote that Hughes "hasn't set foot in Hollywood for years, but his influence has never been more potent." Though he'd pulled out of the industry all but completely, "he has an entire generation of fans in the industry who grew up infatuated with his films, especially a string of soulful mid-1980s teen comedies that helped capture the eternal drama of modern teenage existence." And Goldstein spoke with Kevin Smith, who told him, "He's our generation's JD Salinger. He touched a generation and then the dude checked out. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be doing what I do. Basically my stuff is just John Hughes films with four-letter words."

"John Hughes movies don't lose anything on the small screen," wrote Eric Hynes in Reverse Shot in September 2007. "Hughes's art depends on the quality of the writing, full stop. When his writing is good, as in Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, his films are as funny, exhilarating, and remain as timeless as anything from the post-silent, pre-television heyday of Preston Sturges and Ernst Lubitsch."

Shawn Levy notes that there's a doc in the making, Don't You Forget About Me, in which four filmmakers hit the road in search of the elusive director.

Online viewing tips. About a month ago, a thread on Hughes was opened up here in the Forums (following another begun a few months earlier) with that "Lisztomania" cut-up featuring clips from The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. Run a search on YouTube for any of Hughes's titles - Ferris Bueller's Day Off, for example - and you'll come up with hundreds of results.

Updates: "Had Hughes stuck it out, he could've been this generation's Frank Capra or Preston Sturges or Frank Tashlin," suggests Noel Murray at the AV Club.

"Of his films, The Breakfast Club will always come first in my heart," writes IFC's Alison Willmore, "but it's Bueller that seems the richer text. At least, no other film in Hughes oeuvre has inspired anything like the the Fight Club theory." Click it and, as Alison says, "Wrap your head around that."

Ed Champion argues that "it was John Candy who made Hughes a true comedic filmmaker and who gave Hughes the heart that his films needed to extend beyond populist entertainments."


Updates, 7/8: "I listen. Not to Hollywood. I listen to you. I make these movies for you. Really." Hughes confided in Alison Byrne Fields, and her post on their pen pal relationship has probably become the most widely read remembrance since the news of Hughes's death broke yesterday.

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club were to the 1980s what Rebel Without a Cause or Catcher in the Rye were to the 50s," argues Dana Stevens in Slate. "If that sounds grandiose, well, grandiosity has long been essential to the representation of teenagerhood: James Dean's lovingly cultivated sneer, Holden Caulfield's self-defeating purism, Judd Nelson's raised fist in freeze-frame at the end of The Breakfast Club. Each generation learns to express its alienation in the fashionable pose of its time. That the pose is an imitation doesn't make the need to strike it any less real."

"Few directors have left a more distinctive or influential body of work than John Hughes," writes Roger Ebert. "Once when I was visiting the largest movie theater in Calcutta, I asked if Star Wars had been their most successful American film. No, I was told, it was Baby's Day Out, a Hughes comedy about a baby wandering through a big city, which played for more than a year."

"Hughes was writing his emotional autobiography backward, like a sitcom Benjamin Button." Time's Richard Corliss explains.

"Without saying anything new or even necessarily true ('It's so hard being cute, white, middle- American, and middle-class'), he changed a segment of the movies by giving us aspirational emotional archetypes," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris.

"Most of all, the man was a born filmmaker," argues Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door. "His movies moved.... [W]hether intimate or overscaled, Hughes' films were impeccably put together, with a uncanny ability to shift gears from one very different scene or sequence to another, without losing the audience. Even Hughes's supposedly lightweight teen flicks often seesawed between goofy slapstick that put a grin on your face and foursquare melodrama that wiped it off."

"His greatest legacy in the movies, for better and for worse, may not be the movies so much as Hughes's presciently edgy ability to compile smart, hip soundtracks," finds Dennis Cozzalio. "For me, Hughes will always be remembered with fondness not for his Hollywood career, but for his stint as a writer for National Lampoon whose caustically hilarious stories, like 'Vacation '58' not only provided the basis for the hit film (written by Hughes, directed by Harold Ramis), but also prefigured his ear for irony-tinged nostalgia and spiky teen-speak, which, ironically, he never seemed to access as truthfully in the movies as he did for the magazine."

"While it's always sad when a public figure dies so young," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, "there's something to be said for a man who, in an era when plenty of us are busy oversharing details of our lives via Twitter and Facebook, can maintain some semblance of mystery about his life. After a period of overexposure - albeit one that brought him great success - it appears that Hughes decided, simply, to live the life he wanted to live."

Jeffrey Overstreet explains why Planes, Trains and Automobiles "actually meant something to me" and Chuck Tryon recalls being introduced to Hughes's movies as a teen.

At Premium Hollywood, Will Harris snips 15 favorite bits of dialogue, while Christopher Campbell rounds up remembrances at the SpoutBlog.

Online viewing tip #1. /Film's found a 47-minute interview with Hughes conducted in 1985. That same year, Mark Matousek spoke with Hughes for Interview and David Blum wrote a cover story for New York on the Brat Pack.

Online viewing tip #2. Ray Pride's found the 1991 National Association of Movie Theater Owners' Tribute film.


Updates, 8/8: The Smart Set remembers John Hughes: Greg Beato on The Breakfast Club, Morgan Mies on Ferris Bueller, Jason Wilson on Sixteen Candles, Stefany Anne Golberg on Weird Science and Jesse Smith on Vacation.

"Historians of cinema may be slow or begrudging in appreciating his achievement, but if auteur status is conferred by the possession of a recognizable style and set of themes, Mr Hughes's place in the pantheon cannot be denied." AO Scott in the New York Times: "Godard described Masculin Féminin, his 1966 vehicle for Jean-Pierre Leaud and [Anna] Karina, as a portrait of 'the children of Marx and Coca-Cola.' [Andrew] McCarthy and [Molly] Ringwald, in Pretty in Pink, were corresponding icons for the children of Ronald Reagan and New Coke."

"Of all the big, commercially successful American auteurs, he has always seemed to me the most mysterious, the most conflicted, the most unfulfilled." David Edelstein elaborates.

"I honestly don't give a damn if the ending of Planes, Trains & Automobiles is thought by many to be manipulative, because of course it is," writes Bill Ryan. "What matters is if that manipulation works, and for me it does."

"Hughes tapped a universal teenage emotion better than anyone who came before, or since," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik. "Hughes trafficked in rebellion, but lightly, like a liquid, always taking the shape of the container in which it found itself."

Matt Prigge in Philadelphia Weekly: "The films worked in reverse: they didn't capture how teens acted but taught them how to act."

Matt Dentler: "I'm convinced that without John Hughes, we would have no Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, Todd Phillips, or Wes Anderson. Plus, I'd argue that TV shows such as Seinfeld, The Simpsons, or The Office could not have succeeded without the road paved by his legacy. Conan O'Brien would not be the new host of The Tonight Show, without the impact of John Hughes."

Online listening tip. Via Movie City News, Hughes's 1985 Master Seminar for the AFI, downloadable in two parts.



Updates, 10/8: "What Hughes's movies, whatever his degree of involvement with them, all are, pretty much without exception, are terrible movies." Phil Nugent does not stop there. More than a few of the writers cited above are taken to task.

"It's unfair to knock Hughes for the narrow focus of his films," writes Vince Keenan. "Life got small before the pictures did."

"But the Brat Pack was a generation of underachievers Hughes and the movies abandoned," writes AS Hamrah in n+1. "They are loved because they are only semi-iconic, not stars, people lost to Hollywood."

"Hughes wasn't a miracle man," writes Brian Orndorf at Hollywood Bitchslap, "just resplendently observant in a genre that preferred dim, nubile things over relevance, putting forth movies that believed in the universal power of awkwardness and frayed (but repairable) threads of self-confidence. In essence, he allowed his teen characters to be unapologetic drama queens, thus guaranteeing himself access to the empathy of millions. It was a cunning way for Hughes to conduct business, pulled off with his virtuoso filmmaking skill."

At the Playlist, Astrud Sands looks back on "Five Films Heavily Inspired by the Legacy & Influence of John Hughes."

And from Alexandra Marshall in the New York Times, a slide show: "Fashion designers have rediscovered the light, quirky version of 1980s fashion that Hughes and his muse, Molly Ringwald, put together so well, as you can see with a skip through some of his films' more indelible costuming."



Updates, 11/8: AV Club writers offer their "Last thoughts on John Hughes."

From Mark Athitakis: "What’s the Matter With Shermer? or, How John Hughes Turned Me Against Dave Eggers."

Reid Rosefelt recalls meeting Hughes - who interviewed him for a job.

The Independent collects appreciations of the films.

At the Quietus, David Bax lists Hughes's ten best.


"Sad thing is, the only scripts with Hughes's involvement likely to rise from the bowels of Development Hell will be the high-concept ideas that he punched out in the early 1990s that in later years, as they were rewritten, he would only sign, not forsaking his royalties, as Edmond Dantès, a character from The Count of Monte Cristo, who eventually shows them all." Ray Pride for NewCity Chicago: "Sad to realize, Hughes will now never make the movie I always thought he was destined to make: the American Jacques Demy-style sung-through romantic musical satire of 21st century life."

For Kimberly Lindbergs, "It's important to note that I'm not angry at John Hughes the man or the people who enjoy his films. I'm angry at the absurd critical response to the director's death and I blame a culture that conveniently forgets facts in order to build critical arguments. If the cultural pundits and film critics are to be believed, an entire generation bought what John Hughes was selling them. But the truth is much more complex than that."


Update, 12/8: "We were like the Darling children when they made the decision to leave Neverland," writes Molly Ringwald in the New York Times. "And John was Peter Pan, warning us that if we left we could never come back. And, true to his word, not only were we unable to return, but he went one step further. He did away with Neverland itself."

Sixteen Candles & The Breakfast Club always had a special place in my heart (as well as many other John Hughes films) They will ALWAYS be a High School movie favorite forever! I’m so glad that John Hughes has taken two spots as a Trending Topic on Twitter with thousands of favorite quotes from his films. I leave off with one of mine from Sixteen Candles: “I can’t believe it. They F*cking forgot my birthday.” – Samantha Baker So sad to see you go John; but sending so much thanks for some zany, adventures, non-stop laughs and with much appreciation for you knack for capturing the essence of adolescence in your films; I’m wishing you happiness wherever you are.
He was one of the leading people who shaped the ’80s and ’90s into what they were. He will be dearly missed.

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