By now, you’ve likely heard that 1980s teen-film auteur John Hughes passed away at the age of 59 after a heart attack. Hughes had all but disappeared from the Hollywood scene for well over a decade–the last film he directed was Curly Sue, which disappeared from theaters in 1991–but the imprint of Hughes’ sympathetic brand of storytelling persisted, not only in the storytelling styles of younger filmmakers or Hughes’ keen ear for music and dialogue but also in the ways in which many of us growing up in the 1980s view ourselves.
Like many others, I’ve been quietly mourning Hughes’ passing, reading all of the tributes, both personal and professional, including this amazing memoir of a “pen pal” frienship with the director, and I keep returning to my memories of first encountering Hughes’ films when I was a teenager in the 80s. It was during an unexpected blizzard, I’m guessing in the winter or early spring of 1987. Our family had just recently bought our first VCR, and while my father was rushing home from work to beat the storm, he stopped off at a local video store, asked the clerk what films my sister and I might enjoy, and came home with Sixteen Candles and Some Kind of Wonderful. Soon afterwards we caught Pretty in Pink. A few months after that, I rented the R-rated Breakfast Club while my parents were out of town. But from the opening sequence of Sixteen Candles, I was hooked. Molly Ringwald’s performance as the vulnerable, awkward Samantha resonated with me as a teenager who often felt like an outsider. Similarly, Eric Stoltz’s Keith, a working-class romantic with dreams of becoming an artist echoed my own experiences and desires to become a writer. The breezy pop-culture-heavy dialogue sounded familiar, even when Hughes pushed it to the point of parody (the “Neo-maxi-zoom-dweebies” of Ferris Bueller). And Hughes had an ear for good pop-alternative music (Echo and the Bunnymen, Simple Minds, Psychedelic Furs) that helped to eventually shape my own taste in music.
There were some aspects of Hughes’ work that didn’t wear well. The entire “Long Duk Dong” sequence of Sixteen Candles now makes me cringe, and like Matt, I was disappointed in Breakfast Club that Ringwald’s Claire felt compelled to “clean up” Ally Sheedy’s art freak and that everyone sees her as more beautiful afterwards (in fact, even as a teen, I never quite unerstod that scene). But at his best, Hughes succeeded in relating to and comforting the outsider in all teenagers, and his vision of teen life carries over in the work of filmmakers such as Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith. Makes me want to go back and visit Ferris and the gang one last time.