Leisure Still Rules

It's no secret that around the time of Curly Sue (1991), his last effort in the director's chair, John Hughes (1950 - 2009) was starting to lose his so-called golden touch, although that's really a facile statement, since Hughes' prominence came when he inadvertently overhauled the youth film from a stale genre to something energetic, witty, incisive and hugely commercial.

His films didn't involve beaches, monsters, street gangs, or feature a tortured misunderstood youth screaming at his parents for 'tearing him apart.' Hughes pivotal films - Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1984), Pretty in Pink (1986), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), and Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) – were born from a mind that went through a kind of Preston Sturges creative cluster before they became familiar, formulaic, impersonal, and just plain commercial, which is probably why Hughes stepped away from directing in 1991, and focused on writing again, scribbling the massively successful Home Alone diptych (I refuse to acknowledge Part 3) and a lot of generic fodder that pushed him away from the once unique mantle he held as a kind of wunderkind.

His combination of real-life youths playing teens broke the inane convention of twentysomethings playing teens that was the standard during the seventies, his dialogue was profane yet earnest, and his use of music redefined the soundtrack album; although he did work with film composers (mostly with the underrated Ira Newborn), his movies featured custom and existing tunes by name bands and musicians, and the lyrics were purposeful to the plot and characters.

For the record labels (particularly MCA), though, his movies were gold, because the soundtrack LPs were all about selling the songs – which his films initially weren't – to a lucrative demographic hungry to hear new music, and relive moments from their favourite misadventures.

The albums for his teen films rarely featured any score cuts, and they were among the crop of soundtracks releases that convinced labels to dump the otherwise standard practice of issuing actual score albums (if not a half-and-half combo) – a devastating effect on orchestral and all-synth scores already struggling to find their small but devoted audiences. The song soundtrack album is often attributed to Simon and Garfunkel's The Graduate (1967), but the practice of making movies with mostly songs didn't really gel until Hughes showed how well they could be integrated as part of a film's dialogue, visual style, and an active component in a film's editing tempo.

His movies are lessons in the codification of what's now called 'eighties music montages,' and though it's a dated practice, it's still very much a part of standard moviemaking, both for purposeful plot advancement, and as outright filler material because filmmakers were too lazy to craft coherent scenes and a plot.

Everyone around my age has a favourite Hughes film, be it the angst of trying to be cool at the age of sixteen, aiming to romance someone from a higher social standing, or in my case, skipping classes with friends because school, more or less, was dull, time-wasting, and uninspiring.

My high school was known at the time for kids skipping classes in large blocks prior to exams, a high quotient of rich brats getting their own cars at sixteen even though the family mansions were minutes away by foot, a pinhead vice-principal who demanded late kids stand frozen in the hallways during announcements so he could scribble out late slips (he actually pushed a kid away from the the hallway door he was half-way passing thru), and kids who knew how to manipulate teachers with sickening brilliance.

One friend never realized she'd killed off several grandmothers (more than her family had) when she used another 'family death' as an excuse for missing several days of pedagogical boredom, and there was that sickening moment when she sat on the math teacher's desk, nibbled at his muffin, and kept whispering/weaseling “Pleeeze, Mister Paccilo” to boost her average closer to 90% (which she got in the end).


There was a classmate who owned his own car, and drove it playing music so loud people in the mall where I worked could hear us advancing through brick and steel walls; and two friends who became an unlikely couple, and with whom I tagged along during lunches that became longer and longer than legally allowed.

Mostly it was the class skipping that made me giggle when I caught a preview screening of Ferris Bueller's Day Off (double-billed with the shitty Poltergeist II), and the fact that Ferris' high school was mine. I was friends with a wit who may not have gone so far as to climb onto a parade float and sing to crowds on his day off, but he was the Robin Williams of my class, and he made skipping class fun.

Another friend had issues with his siblings, and always branded his sister “ugly,” and once drew his brother's head on the class chalkboard during lunch, with giant oil wells spouting geysers of grease that supposedly lay buried beneath cranial plates.

The Breakfast Club is fun, Pretty in Pink is dated and yes, screechingly awful, and Some Kind of Wonderful is worth it solely for Mary Stuart Masterson and that dynamic drummer girl title montage, but the film that to my eyes clicked was Ferris Bueller's Day Off, because it's about the dream day, the ultimate revenge against pinhead authority, and one seriously hot girl named Sloane who reminded me of the muffin-nibbling brat in math class.

Bueller was also tech-savvy; not as an uber-geek, but as a cheeky little rascal who could piece together a gizmo using a home tapedeck, wires, and a keyboard to fool his parents long enough to paint the local suburban town with his friends.

Although it's sad Hughes never captured that magic in later films, it's plainly obvious he couldn't. The teen films were part of a creative run, and a genre revitalization, and like any realist, he probably sensed any further misadventures would've been straight regurgitation.

That's why he tackled other comedic scenarios – Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), She's Having a Baby (1988), Home Alone (1990) – before seemingly giving up and settling for what he initially avoided – regurgitating material – through further sequels, and remaking other peoples' movies, including classics like Miracle on 34th Street (1994), Flubber (1997), and the French film Just Visiting / Les Visiteurs in 2001.

Hughes didn't become irrelevant in his later years; he just settled into the factory setting his teen characters rebelled against, which is a strange irony, although one can believe Ferris could've moved into the corporate world and been the most popular exec in the department. He would've had the best parties, the hottest girl, cute kids, and figured out ways to make it appear he was hard at work in the office or on a vital business lunch when in reality, Ferris was likely escaping from his corporate park in a company limo to meet wife Sloane and attend a baseball game, along with best buddy Cameron – purely to prove that life does move fast, and you have to force a bit of leisure time to stifle mounting tension, and the gradual insanity of aging.

Haven't figured out how to accomplish that, but Ferris is still the sage one.

Like the sprawling preview poster I still have reads, it is indeed true that Leisure Rules.



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