After taking a look at the work of John Carpenter and John Barry for the first two weeks in #Johnuary we now move onto the seminal 80s film-maker John Hughes.

I used to get John Hughes’ and John Carpenter’s names mixed up. I just could never remember which was which, and that’s part of the reason I wanted to immerse myself in their work so that I would remember. I was aware of a lot more of John Hughes work though, even if I couldn’t remember his name. Of the 11 movies that I watched for Johnuary I had previously seen about five or six of them before, but some of them I hadn’t seen for over 20 years. I pretty much knew Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by heart, but just never really knew who made it. And I’d seen Home Alone several times, Miracle on 34th Street a couple of times and Planes, Trains and Automobiles once.

After watching John Carpenter films in the first week I noticed that his films often end negatively, open-ended or apocalyptically. John Hughes couldn’t be farther from this. His films normally end with happy endings, and often with a teenager or young person having made some sort of emotional journey along the way.

One of the things I really respect about John Hughes is that he started life as a writer and he more often than not both wrote and directed, and sometimes produced, his movies. For this exercise I mostly covered films that he directed but also added in a few that he just wrote.

John Hughes

Before becoming a filmmaker, Hughes had jobs including being a copywriter at an advertising agency and also writing up to 100 jokes a day for $5-7 a joke for people such as Joan Rivers. He then left his advertising to work at National Lampoon magazine and that’s where he got his first chance at drafting a screenplay, for National Lampoon’s Vacation, which Harold Ramis would direct. Hughes was extremely prolific as a writer and actually released some screenplays, such as Beethoven, under a pseudonym ‘Edward Dantes’.

Apparently some people found him difficult to work with. I’ve read that some people say he was impossible to work with, often fired aides and made it very clear on set who the creative genius was. I believe a lot of the Breakfast Club cast didn’t speak to him again after that movie, which scuppered plans for a sequel. And during Weird Science, Robert Downey Jr was so aggravated with Hughes that he took a dump in Kelly LeBrock’s trailer?!

And yet it seems he had crafted strong relationships with Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, both of whom he used in three movies. Also John Kapalos, who plays Carl the janitor in The Breakfast Club, is in at least three movies too. John Candy too must be in at least three of them.

Hughes is quoted as once saying, “I so desperately hate to end these movies that the first thing I do when I’m done is write another one. Then I don’t feel sad about having to leave and everybody going away. That’s why I tend to work with the same people; I really befriend them.”

One thing I really like is how he sets most of his movies, the teen ones anyway, in the fictional town of Shermer, Illinois, and they attend Shermer High School. This makes it into a nice little Hughes universe.

In my research I came across an interview recording which was pretty interesting. You can find it at this link. It’s basically a short interview with John Hughes and some questions fielded from the audience and I assume it must have been recorded in about 1985 as they talk about him having had already made Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club but in the interview itself he talks about upcoming projects including Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s just quite interesting to hear him talk about these upcoming projects and also he answers some interesting questions about how he works and collaborates with his actors.

One thing I love about his movies are that they aren’t just frivolous teen angst movies. They all have a lot of heart and often work on various levels. It’s not always just about the teen problems (although he does have a great skill of being very in touch with the teenage mind) as he often touches upon other relationships too such as the father in Sixteen Candles or John Candy in Uncle Buck. The films do often end with a heart warming personal or relationship development but they’re never too cheesy and in my opinion they all still hold up extremely well to this day. I also like how he manages to interject some comedy, and often pretty slapstick too. That’s quite a difficult skill to pull off and most of the time he does it extremely well.

He was incredible prolific in the mid 80s with five very big films coming out in the space of three years, from Sixteen Candles in 1983 to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in 1986. And he was one of the main proponent of the group of actors that would be termed the Brat Pack. I need to watch a few non-Hughes movies, such as St. Elmo’s Fire, to fill in some Brat Pack gaps.

I extremely enjoyed watching all these John Hughes movies. I thought some of them would have dated badly or come across as really cheesy nowadays but they really didn’t. I can’t believe how much I enjoyed Sixteen Candles. That shows just how good the writing, directing and acting were. I’m very curious to learn more about the man himself now and watch a bunch of interviews with him on YouTube. I’m not sure if he recorded any DVD commentaries but I’ll take a look.

I hope you enjoy Week 3 of Johnuary where we go through the work of John Hughes.