John C. Hughes on John Hughes

My bio for Popdose when it first appeared in January of last year began thusly: “John C. Hughes calls himself such to differentiate himself from the other John Hughes.” A lame joke, but one based in truth. Ever since I was 16 years old, I’ve heard the following from people after they hear my full name for the first time: “You mean, like the director?”

I wish.

The other John Hughes was responsible for a huge formative portion of my life, and that’s no exaggeration. The man introduced me to National Lampoon, he was the cool older brother whose music I’d listen to, he was the guy who made me believe I could escape small-town Ohio and make a living — get this! — doing something creative that I loved. I mean, after all, we even had the same name, so I could do it too, right?

I remember when Sixteen Candles opened. The Avon Lake Theater in Lorain County, Ohio, was included in a nationwide promotion where you got a free Sixteen Candles T-shirt and poster if you came to see the movie on your actual 16th birthday. That was enough for me — the movie opened on May 4, 1984, and I turned 16 on the 16th.

I had no idea one little teen movie could have such an impact. I loved everything about it: the paper-thin plot (Sam’s parents forgot her birthday!), the realistic cadence the characters used when they spoke, and the music. My Lord, the music …

John Hughes and I must’ve been related somehow. We had to have been. Thompson Twins. Paul Young. Spandau Ballet. Wang Chung. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Psychedelic Furs. Yello. Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Seriously — have you read the stuff I write about?

And every John Hughes movie featured a character that hit close to home. Farmer Ted, King of the Geeks (Sixteen Candles)? John C. Hughes, 10th grade. Brian Johnson, brainy virgin (The Breakfast Club)? John C. Hughes, ahem, 11th grade. Sure, we all loved Ferris, but wasn’t Cameron funnier and more real? However, the character I most identified with had to be Pretty in Pink‘s beleaguered Duckie (Jon Cryer). Hell, I was Duckie in high school, right down to the sub-Merry Go Round/Chess King clothing, white boat shoes, and pompadour (oh, how I miss that hair). But I related to Duckie on an even deeper level, because as a terrified, closeted gay boy in Ohio during the mid-’80s hysteria over AIDS, I would pretend to pine over girls I could never really have (or care to have, to be honest).

This isn’t a shock to anyone, is it? I mean, it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching Pretty in Pink (1986) today that Duckie was totally a closet case. And trust me, as someone who was quite adept at it in my day, pining over the unattainable lady is the perfect cover. It’s too bad we’ll never get to see that long-rumored sequel that supposedly would’ve picked up the story 20 years later, proving my theory correct. I imagine Duckie grew up to be a marketing director somewhere in Los Angeles, happily married to his lover, living a quiet life in Van Nuys. He and Andie (Molly Ringwald) still keep in touch via Facebook; she even came to his wedding. Of course she’s still single — Blaine (Andrew McCarthy) didn’t even last until college — but happy designing clothes for Urban Outfitters or Metropark.

Sorry, where was I? That’s just it, though, about John Hughes’s characters — they were so real you could imagine the rest of their lives. His movies were less about plot (kids stay for Saturday detention, boys create artificial woman) and more about little moments that define us all.

Probably my most-loved John Hughes movie moment comes during Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), of all things. It’s when the trio of friends heads to the art museum on their day off (sure!), and Cameron (Alan Ruck) is mesmerized by a painting (A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, in case you were wondering). While he stares intently at the tiny dots that make up the full picture, we see him focus on the small boy in the painting. Is he longing for the past, before his parents ignored him, or is he wishing for something that never was? While he’s held rapt, we cut to scenes of Ferris (Matthew Broderick) and Sloane (Mia Sara) kissing, a juxtaposition of their happiness against Cameron’s misery.

And the music running beneath all this? The Dream Academy’s sublime instrumental cover of the Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” (download). Hughes’s ear for music is perfect, as always. The song works solely as an instrumental backing, but if you’re familiar with the original and its apropos lyric, it has even more meaning — an Easter egg, if you will.

All day long I’ve gotten phone calls, IMs, Facebook messages, all to the effect of “OMG, John Hughes is dead! You must be really upset! LOL!” Thing is, after all the jokes about us sharing the same name, how he stole my musical taste, blah blah blah, I really am upset.

Upset, but proud to share the name John Hughes.




  • Sam

    Gosh between Michael J and now John Huges- its really feels like this was the summer that the 80's died :(
    Brutal.

  • cortazar

    Some more on John Hughes and the music we learned through his movies here: http://famousblueraincoats.blogspot.com/2009/08

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    A note to the readers: when the terrible news of director Hughes' death broke, our Hughes sent out a staff e-mail – Back off, this is mine. And good thing too, because our John did a brilliant job. Very good work.

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  • jack

    I agree with your take on Ducky, but what do you make of the fact that the original ending had Andie and Ducky ending up together and it was only after test audiences didn't like it that they brought the cast back together for reshoots (and Andrew McCarthy had already shaved his head for a play, thus the awful wig he's sporting at the prom!)?

    Was this a case of the audience being right? A rare moment when Hughes misread his own creation?

  • mojo

    This whole thing was just duckie.

  • Jay

    In a way you could say the audience was wrong. Didn't Some Kind of Wonderful prove that?

  • JohnHughes

    I really think this was an instance of the audience picking up on something that even the author didn't notice/expect/knew himself subliminally.

    It's a shame John's gone now, because we'll never really know…

  • Malchus

    A beautiful post, John.

    I think for all of us who grew up in the 80's John Hughes was that one person in the entertainment industry who got us. Yes, there were films before his that touched on the true adolescent experience (“Fast Times…” and “Last American Virgin” to name a couple) but in Hughes we had an ally, someone who made a series of films that everyone could relate to. While he was sensitive to the freaks and geeks, he also showed that the rich kids and jocks were going through the same crap the rest of us were. It was his ability to make any character in his writing and films human enough that we could relate to them, whether is was Michael Keaton in “Mr. Mom,” the Griswolds, or all of the wonderful teenagers he made up for his movies. Even those of us with big families could relate to the forgotten son, Kevin, in “Home Alone.”

    At his peak Hughes was so big he was able to recycle his material and get away with it, as was the case with “Some Kind of Wonderful.”

    Like all of us from the 80's, Hughes decided he was done being a teenager by the time the 90's rolled around. While his influence will be felt for generations, all of us from that era can claim him as ours, which makes his sudden passing so sad.

  • http://playitandbedamned.blogspot.com/ rob

    Thank you, John. Very well done.

    I'd like to put this out there and see what you think: Was John Hughes our generation's equivalent of J.D. Salinger?

    Just as Holden Caulfield spoke to the kids of the 50s and 60s, Cameron, Duckie and Sam (among other characters) spoke to us in the 80s. His movies mirrored the anxiety and problems facing teenagers of our time – just as “Catcher in the Rye” once did.

  • http://mulberrypanda96.blogspot.com rwcass

    I think the AP obituary also compared Hughes to Salinger in that Hughes was rarely interviewed or photographed in the past decade.

    Great job, John. Those movies can still pack a punch. I'd like to find some of the pieces Hughes wrote for National Lampoon.

  • maxx40

    I agree. Hughes doesn't realize that Duckie is gay, or perceived gay, yet the test audience must have. Hughes doesn't get, really, that boys like Duckie, no matter what their sexual orientation, were labeled “queer” by the jocks. Or he got it and just made it into general bullying for Hollywood. Hughes never really embraced the gender possibilities of New Wave. Nothing is more depressing than when Ally Sheedy pretties herself up for the jock in BC. Or when Annie Potts goes finally for the blandest yuppiest look when she falls in love at the end of PP. Love the soundtracks but these movies are weirdly conservative in an era of Boy George and Annie Lennox.

  • http://mulberrypanda96.blogspot.com rwcass

    Maxx40, have you seen this article from Slate three years ago?

    http://www.slate.com/id/2150156/

    It was mentioned in A.O. Scott's article about Hughes in today's New York Times.

  • maxx40

    Thanks, rwcass! Great article.

  • Bryant S

    Great article John!!! John Hughes' films touched me as a teenager because if you ever felt like an outsider there were pieces in his films that you could really relate to…and you are absolutely right the soundtracks to his films rocked–who can forget “If You Leave” from “Pretty In Pink”.

  • maxx40

    Thanks, rwcass! Great article.

  • Bryant S

    Great article John!!! John Hughes' films touched me as a teenager because if you ever felt like an outsider there were pieces in his films that you could really relate to…and you are absolutely right the soundtracks to his films rocked–who can forget “If You Leave” from “Pretty In Pink”.

  • http://mulberrypanda96.blogspot.com rwcass

    Maxx40, have you seen this article from Slate three years ago?

    http://www.slate.com/id/2150156/

    It was mentioned in A.O. Scott's article about Hughes in today's New York Times.

  • maxx40

    Thanks, rwcass! Great article.

  • Bryant S

    Great article John!!! John Hughes' films touched me as a teenager because if you ever felt like an outsider there were pieces in his films that you could really relate to…and you are absolutely right the soundtracks to his films rocked–who can forget “If You Leave” from “Pretty In Pink”.

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