Filmmaker left imprint on a generation

Published 12:05 am Sunday, August 9, 2009

The king of teen angst has gone on to that big high school in the sky.

It was a sad day last week for many like me who came of age in the 1980s with film writer and director John Hughes providing his comical guidance along the way.

Hughes died Thursday from a sudden heart attack at the age of 59.

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Who in the world is Hughes you may ask? First, dig out your copy of Totally 80s and crank up songs like “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds or Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings” just to get in the right frame of mind. You might want to grab a pair of parachute pants or acid-washed jeans just for good measure.

Hughes was the guy that made “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller” part of modern pop culture, put Ben Stein, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall and others on the Hollywood map, all while making some of the best movies of a generation.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club” are all modern classics. Just ask anybody below the age of 45 and they will likely agree.

While not as quickly recognizable or iconic as the others, “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Pretty in Pink” and “Weird Science” are arguably just as good because they showcased the writer/director’s knack for relevant dialogue and an understanding of the modern social dynamic teenagers face.

Hughes also was the writer that welcomed us into the home of Clark W. Griswold and took us on that doomed trip to Wally World in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

It can be argued that Chevy Chase hasn’t been that funny since.

As he got older and most of his fans did the same, Hughes’ movies lost something for many, though his most commercially successful came when Macaulay Culkin showed that being “Home Alone” wasn’t just fun and games.

A string of other films like “Uncle Buck,” “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” and “She’s Having a Baby,” just couldn’t capture that same magic, at least for me. By that point I was moving beyond those early teen years.

But looking at his body of work and those who he influenced, Hughes deserves credit as being a voice of a generation.

Not sure if that would be generation X, Y, ABC or some other alphabet soup that someone comes up with, but the youth of the ‘80s owe Hughes thanks.

What made John Hughes’ movies timeless is that he used character archetypes that everyone could relate to and situations most of us were familiar with growing up. These still work today, for the most part.

Whether you were the most popular kid in school or the shy wallflower that wanted to be anywhere but class, Hughes found a way to make his movies speak to you.

The monologue from the end of “The Breakfast Club” may have verbalized perfectly what millions of teenagers didn’t have the words to say.

“Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are.

“You see us as you want to see us. In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain … an athlete … a basket case … a princess … and a criminal. Does that answer your question?”

For a generation of teenagers, it did. And John Hughes should be remembered for helping provide those answers.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at