Today marks the one-year anniversary of the death of filmmaker John Hughes. Just 59 years old, Hughes suffered a heart attack while taking a morning walk on a street in midtown Manhattan. As such, today also marks the one-year anniversary of John Hughes finally receiving the kind of critical respect and attention that had eluded him while he was alive, and that he richly deserved all along. The films he wrote and/or directed, including Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, revolutionized the teen-movie genre, forever changing how films about young people are made, marketed, and culturally absorbed. Hughes' films showed Hollywood the power of the teenage dollar, but more importantly, they had a great sociological impact, changing the way many young people view the world.
Back when Hughes was in his creative prime in the 1980s, most film scholars wouldn't have uttered his name in the same sentence as the word "Oscars," and yet, at this year's Academy Awards, he received a rare and unprecedented tribute, something that his fans saw as a long-overdue validation of his contributions to American moviemaking.
Many of the actors Hughes had worked with, including Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Jon Cryer, Anthony Michael Hall, Macaulay Culkin and Matthew Broderick, took the stage to salute their director, mentor, and friend.
"John saw something in all of us," said Ringwald, the actor with whom Hughes had shared the most special connection. "His genius was taking the pain of growing up and relating it to everyone. His gift was creating characters, stories, and truths about being a teen, and bringing them to film in a way that no one had ever done before. It is why his influence endures."
A montage of well-loved clips from Hughes' movies was then shown; it ended with Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller, uttering those iconic and now doubly meaningful words:
"Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
This year saw Hughes honored and remembered in many other ways as well. In his native Chicago, a Breakfast Club musical was performed this spring. The Denver Film Society hosted a John Hughes film festival featuring six of the director's movies, and a prom-style party after their screening of Pretty in Pink. A Canadian documentary focusing on Hughes and named after the theme song of The Breakfast Club, Don't You Forget About Me, was completed before Hughes' death, but got distribution almost immediately afterwards. An episode of the CW's One Tree Hill was an unabashedly sentimental homage to the director. The Traverse City Film Festival honored him with a posthumous Michigan Filmmaker Award (Hughes was born in Lansing), and The Film Society of Lincoln Center just announced they will be hosting a John Hughes Film Retrospective this September, featuring guest panelists like director Kevin Smith (a loyal Hughes fan who once called the director "our generation's JD Salinger"), Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson.
Hughes's work continues to inspire today's directors and writers: Judd Apatow and Diablo Cody are well-known Hughes devotees, and Edgar Wright cites The Breakfast Club as a major influence on his Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which hits theaters August 13.
While researching my book You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation, which was largely completed before Hughes died, I was fortunate enough to interview many of the people who worked with him, including Molly Ringwald, Matthew Broderick, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Andrew McCarthy and Anthony Michael Hall. I felt honored to hear their stories about working with Hughes in what turned out to be the golden age of youth cinema. And as I've traveled to different cities across the country to give readings from my book, I've been approached by many people, some with tears in their eyes, who have told me how much John Hughes and his films have meant to them.
For those of us for whom John Hughes' movies do mean so much, his death still seems hard to accept. As he lived a somewhat reclusive life, shunning the spotlight completely in his final years, it's almost possible to suspend disbelief for a few moments -- when the song "Pretty in Pink" comes on the radio, or when Sixteen Candles is playing on cable yet again -- to imagine, if only for an instant, that Hughes is still alive and well, happily cloistered in one of his beautiful homes in the Midwest, spending time with his beloved family, typing away at scripts in his study.
One of my favorite lyrics in the song "Don't You Forget About Me" is this: "Think of the tender things that we were working on." Today, I will indeed think of the tender things that John Hughes worked on during his too-brief career. Those tender things were the stories that helped shape a generation.
The title of another song keeps coming to me these days also as I think of John Hughes. An early Thompson Twins song, it is hauntingly beautiful, and can be heard playing in the last scene of Sixteen Candles as Ringwald's character finally kisses the boy she loves, lit by the glow of candles on the birthday cake he's gotten for her.
The song is called "If You Were Here."
Susannah Gora is the author of "You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried:
The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation" (Crown, 2010). Visit her on the web at www.susannahgora.com
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