Wednesday, April 04, 2007

don't you forget about me: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes

don't you forget about me: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes by Jaime Clarke, foreword by Ally Sheedy (Simon Spotlight, 2007).

From the promotional copy: "No one captured the teen portion of the eighties as poignantly as writer-director John Hughes. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Some Kind of Wonderful are timeless tales of love, angst, longing, and self-discovery that illuminated and assuaged the anxieties of an entire generation. Fondly nostalgic, filled with wit and surprising insights, don't you forget about me contains original essays from a skillfully chosen crop of novelists and essayists on the films' far-reaching effects on their own lives--an irresistible read for anyone who came of age in the eighties (or just wishes they did)."

Featured writers include: Steve Almond; Julianna Baggott; Lisa Borders; Ryan Boudinot; T. Cooper; Quinn Dalton; Emily Franklin; Lisa Gabriele; Tod Goldberg; Nina de Gramont; Tara Ison; Allison Lynn; John McNally; Dan Pope; Lewis Robinson; Ben Schrank; Elizabeth Searle; Mary Sullivan; Rebecca Wolff; and Moon Unit Zappa.

My Thoughts

I graduated from high school in the mid 1980s, so I was the original target audience for the John Hughes films, all of which I've seen except Some Kind of Wonderful.

I read the essay collection last weekend. It's conversational, not academic. Writers look back on the films, how the movies related to their lives at the time, and how their own perspectives have changed since then.

For example, Steve Almond writes about how the character of Cameron provided the heart of Ferris Bueller and also took the film beyond a light teenage romp.

Julianna Baggott tooks a looks at the "Prude/Slut" trap that Allison articulates in The Breakfast Club: "Well, if you say you haven't...you're a prude. If you say you have...you're a slut! It's a trap. You want to but you can't. And when you do, you wish you didn't, right?"

Although "fondly nostalgic," the writers don't shirk from criticism. Quinn Dalton reconsiders the insensitive depictions of Long Duk Dong and "Neck Brace Girl" in Sixteen Candles as well as what happened between Farmer Ted and Caroline in the car after the dance--"of course she was passed out, drunk, but she was pretty sure it happened and she'd enjoyed it!"

Many of the writers touch on the signficance of the secondary characters. Of interest to me was that the original ending of Pretty in Pink paired Andie with Duckie rather than with Blane.

Inspired, Greg and I also watched Weird Science and The Breakfast Club this past weekend.

Although an argument can be made (and is in the essay collection) that Ferris Bueller crosses over to fantasy ("Dunkeshein" anyone?), Weird Science definitely stands out as the one clear speculative fiction film in the collection. Both of us found it to be better than we remembered, especially with regard to the Frankenstein nods.

Yet I was struck by how Lisa both removes all evidence of the weekend's magical journey before Wyatt's parents come home and toys with Gary's parents' memories.

Other than Chet's likely future therapy, there's no price to the magic, making for a hollow victory. (Consider in contrast the high cost of Willow's mojo in Joss Whedon's Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, which makes the seventh season finale triumph so much more resonant.)

Fantasy with no costs may have its appeal, like calorie-free deep dish pizza would have its appeal. Yet the illuminating aspect of fantasy is in its metaphors to reality. In the real world, there are costs. Choices have consequences. Eliminating that from fantasy, well, cheapens it.

What intrigued me about The Breakfast Club was that the essayists' consensus was that the teen characters would go back to their old cliques and shun one another come Monday morning. The question is specifically addressed in the film, and it seems (Brian and Allison aside) the answer is no. But afterward, the friendships and romances continue to deepen.

Call me an optimist, but I believe more than one connection between those five stereotype-inspired characters (Claire/princess, Andy/athlete, Brian/brain, Bender/criminal, and Allison/basketcase) lasted in a meaningful way--either immediately or after graduation. After all, if our heroes haven't changed and grown, what's the point?

Bumps aside, I can't deny that John Hughes films were a big part of my adolescence. For GenX readers especially, I recommend don't you forget about me. It'll make you remember.

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