John Hughes wrote many lines that, in light of his untimely passing last Thursday at age 59, take on heightened meaning. Perhaps the most memorable comes from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “Life moves pretty fast,” says Ferris. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
By all reports Mr. Hughes did his best to “stop and look around,” virtually retiring from public life in 1991 to spend more time with his wife of 39 years on their Wisconsin farm.
Although his last film as a director was 16 years ago his influence can still be felt today. Before Hughes, teen characters on film had only a passing resemblance to the real thing. There were the sanitized Disney kids, the goofy Beach Party crowd (who weren’t actually teens at all!) or the juvenile delinquents, bad girls or hot rodders of the ’50s and ’60s.
Those movies were often a lot of fun, but none had the resonance of the teen life presented by Hughes.
His films like Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club took teens seriously and didn’t talk down to or exploit them. He understood that while many adults didn’t take teen problems seriously, teens did. He knew having no date to the prom, or worse, the wrong date, could be devastating to the teen psyche and handled situations like that in a way that had never before been seen on film. Without Hughes and that sensitivity we might not have movies like Tadpole, 13 or Twilight which treat teens realistically (well, except for that whole existence of vampires thing).
Ben Stein, who rose to fame as the deadpan teacher in Ferris Bueller, recognized the impact Hughes made. “He was the poet of the youth of America in the post war period,” he said, adding “he was to them what Shakespeare was to the Elizabethan age.”
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