Thursday, November 10, 2005

John Hughes: Portrait of an Artist

Ever wonder what happened to John Hughes? Me too.

I was channel surfing last night and I came across two Hughes-penned films, Sixteen Candles (which he also directed) and The Great Outdoors. Don't remember The Great Outdoors? I don't blame you. It essentially is a John Candy/Dan Akroyd vehicle about two families vacationing together in a log cabin. Wackiness ensues.

Anyway, wondering what the hell it is that Mssr. Hughes has been doing with his time since 1989, I did a little IMDB search on the man's film credits of late and came up with some startling results. Let's ease ourselves in with the hits:

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Pretty in Pink (1986) (written by)
Weird Science (1985)
European Vacation (1985) (also story) ... aka National Lampoon's European Vacation
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Nate and Hayes (1983) ... aka Savage Islands (UK)
Vacation (1983) (screenplay) ... aka American Vacation (Europe: English title: video title) ... aka National Lampoon's Vacation (USA: complete title)
Mr. Mom (1983) ... aka Mr. Mum

So that is the obvious stuff we all know and love; the reasons why the man is a legend of sorts and a constant point of reference on "I Love The 80's" commentaries. I'll admit that Nate and Hayes and European Vacation are on the iffy side of things but this is one hell of a writing resume. No one can ever say enough about the Breakfast Club but don't sleep on Mr. Mom which is still one of the best "family" movies ever and of course the perfection that is Ferris Bueller's Day Off. If you haven't seen Ferris in a while, do yourself a favor and sit down with it one more time. I think the more you hear that dialogue and really look at the characters that Hughes created (especially Cameron in all of his f'd up glory) you might see why this film stands out not only as a "teen comedy" masterpiece, but also one wickedly smart and poignant piece of humor. I could go on and on about Ferris, but not today.

Now, on to the middling years. There's some good work in the mix but you can see where the cracks in the foundation are beginning to form:

Home Alone (1990) (written by)
Christmas Vacation (1989) (written by) ... aka National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation ... aka National Lampoon's Winter Holiday (UK)
Uncle Buck (1989) (written by)
The Great Outdoors (1988) (written by)
She's Having a Baby (1988)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) (written by)
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) (written by)

Like I said, there's some good material in there but nothing that compares with the early work. Plus there is a palpable change in the tone of these films compared with previous works. At this point, Hughes has moved beyond the teen angst that defined his work (excluding Some Kind of Wonderful and the pre-pre-teen "angst" of Home Alone) as the protagonists now tend to be middle-aged and fighting rebellious tendencies. A far cry from the rebellion-embracing Brat Pack. But at least these films all show the Hughes heart and sentiment which are at the core of his films.

However after Home Alone the train really jumps the tracks:

Beethoven's 5th (2003) (V) (characters) ... aka Beethoven's 5th: Big Paw (USA)
Maid in Manhattan (2002) (story) (as Edmond Dantès) ... aka Made in New York (USA: poster title)
Home Alone 4 (2002) (TV) (characters) ... aka Home Alone: Taking Back the House (USA: DVD title)
Beethoven's 4th (2001) (V) (characters) (as Edmond Dantès)
Just Visiting (2001) (screenplay) ... aka Visiteurs en Amérique, Les (France)
Beethoven's 3rd (2000) (V) (characters) (as Edmond Dantès)
American Adventure (2000) (TV) (characters) ... aka National Lampoon's American Adventure (USA: complete title)
Reach the Rock (1998) (written by)
Home Alone 3 (1997) (written by)
Flubber (1997) (screenplay) ... aka Disney's Flubber: The Absent Minded Professor (promotional title)
101 Dalmatians (1996) (screenplay)
Miracle on 34th Street (1994) (screenplay)
Baby's Day Out (1994) (written by)
Beethoven's 2nd (1993) (characters) (as Edmond Dantès)
Dennis the Menace (1993) (written by) ... aka Dennis (UK)
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) (characters) (written by) ... aka Home Alone II (USA: short title)
Beethoven (1992) (written by) (as Edmond Dantès)
Curly Sue (1991) (written by)
Dutch (1991) (written by) ... aka Driving Me Crazy
Career Opportunities (1991) (written by) ... aka One Wild Night

Yikes! Are there any redeeming qualities to this decade of cinematic tragedies? A young Jennifer Connely was pretty hot in Career Opportunities? Does that count?

What I'm getting at is this; John Hughes, what happened to you? Where have you gone? So much quality in the early years of your work must have been sustainable for at least a little while longer. I know age plays a vital role. The man was in his late 30's when he penned the classics. I'm sure that once you hit 40 it is even harder to nail the Youthful Condition. But this stuff? I think the real tragedy is that he skipped over an entire phase of human life. He went straight from teenage awkwardness to middle-age surrender. Where's the look at the end of young adulthood...the fertile soil that Nick Hornby mines so well.

All I'm saying is that I wish John Hughes would come back. The real John Hughes. The man who can still make me go into hysterics almost 20 years later. In his honor I give you a few nuggets that always make me laugh:
"Where the hell am I?"
"I'll, uh, tell you where you are if you tell me who you are."
"I'm Farmer Ted. "
"You're in the parking lot front of my church."
"You own a church?"

"I do have a test today, that wasn't bullshit. It's on European socialism. I
mean, really, what's the point? I'm not European. I don't plan on being
European. So who cares if they're socialists? They could be fascist
anarchists. It still doesn't change the fact that I don't own a car."

"Uh... Dick, excuse me, Rich - will milk be made available to us?"
"I have a really low tolerance for dehydration."
"I've seen her dehydrate, sir, it's pretty gross."


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