Thursday, August 27, 2009

Remembering John Hughes

Property of The Daily Gamecock

It may be fair to say, whatever label you wish to ascribe to Summer 2009, it could arguably stand as the "Summer of Lost Celebrities." Between David Carradine, Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays and the much-publicized passing of Michael Jackson, we have been reminded over and over again in these few short months that those immortalized through their craft are as mortally fragile as those who follow their careers and personal lives.

In the first week of August, as the Michael Jackson media frenzy began to finally subside, we abruptly learned that another idol had left us. At just 59, legendary film director John Hughes suffered a fatal heart attack, after having been all but removed from the public eye for nearly two decades.

Hughes's brief wave of films in the mid-1980s - "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" - helped put a concrete definition on 1980s comedy while helping launch such careers as those of Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, Emelio Estevez and Matthew Broderick.

His death brings into clear focus the magnitude of his influence. Since 2004, we have been experiencing what many media writers have referred to as the "Apatow Moment," where director/writer/producer Judd Apatow has seemingly monopolized the comedy market while propelling the careers of Seth Rogen, Steve Carell and Jason Segel among others.

Apatow is not a unique figure, and much of his commercial success in the past five years stems from his emulation of the same model Hughes tapped into in the mid-1980s.

When history places a figure into its hall of fame for any given achievement, it is most likely because that person has somehow capitalized on their cultural moment, advancing or refining their art in a meaningful way.

Yes, Hughes made funny movies, but lest we forget that comedy is a serious business. Hughes operated almost exclusively in high school comedies in the early years of his career, and explored alternative means of depicting high school in films, not necessarily any great truth about growing up or coming of age.

"The Breakfast Club" retains its staying power precisely because the characters are embodiments of stereotypical images. Hughes uses a confined space and abbreviated time frame in the film to break down the divide of social barriers and explore the emptiness of a stereotyped image.

Similarly, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" retains its appeal because it is so largely an outlandish fantasy. Hughes affords us the pleasure of watching a single person enact the hidden desires of every high school senior, turning Ferris into an almost mythical creation with the gift for getting away with everything.

For many, Hughes remains a personal icon, whose legacy grows stronger with each late-night cable re-run of his perennial classics. In the early 1990s, Hughes realized his time had passed, and he quietly retreated from the spotlight. His passing brings with it the remorse that he was never able to have a triumphant return, while savoring even more his brief contributions to his genre.

As Broderick said addressing the audience directly at the end of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off": "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." That's entertainment.

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