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Saying thanks to John Hughes

I can remember the moment that I fell in love with John Hughes' movies. I was watching Pretty in Pink.

Filmmaker John Hughes died last week.

I can remember the moment that I fell in love with his movies. I was watching Pretty in Pink.

Apart from the requisite crush on Molly Ringwald, the moment that caught my ear, and heart, was when she’s at a party. The music that’s playing is from OMD, or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

OK, they’re admittedly not a band that has weathered the passage of time very well, but it was music I listened to then, at that moment in my life, and it was there as backdrop to real-life teenager situations. It was current and true to my life.

Think of so-called teen movies before Hughes came along. The worst example, Quadrophenia, was purported to be about “kids today” — but still played the music of my parents’ time (in that case The Who).

Wow... “hip, man.”

But Hughes got not just teen angst, but also teen humour and teen culture.

Then came the brilliant, and still brilliant, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The great music was there (English Beat!), but this was Woody Allen for teenagers.

It was smart, funny, cheeky and insightful. I still feel a pang at the scene when Cameron, just stares at the screaming child in Seurat’s painting, Sunday Afternoon, until the image disappears into a thousand dots of cinematic light.

That’s simple but profound storytelling.

But, holy cow, is that a funny movie. They talk about drugs without being preachy -- arguably still Charlie Sheen’s best role -- a non-idealized portrayal of high school cheesiness without the camp or the earnestness of so many John Hughes knock-off movies.

Think of how much better that movie has aged than other “rebel” movies of the era, such as Footloose or Dirty Dancing.

Sure, there were many other memorable Hughes movies: Plane, Trains and Automobiles, Home Alone, The Breakfast Club. And they’ve remained influential 20 years later.

Fellow filmmaker Judd Apatow always acknowledges his connection to Hughes, but Apatow’s films are a step backward.

His characters are infantile, locked in their all-consuming self-absorption.

The characters in Hughes’ films were real, about growing up and, yes, screwing up in a way that made them grow.

John Hughes stopped making films a few years back and spent a lot of time — by all accounts — just hanging out at home near Chicago, so it’s not that we’ll miss out on the great films that he would have made.

It’s just, I don’t know... now the possibility isn’t there to have a chance encounter where I can say “Hey! You’re John Hughes! Thanks.”

It wouldn’t have happened, I know, but what the heck. John Hughes, if you’re listening: Thanks.

This commentary originally aired on CBC Radio One’s Q. Kevin Sylvester’s book Neil Flambe and the Marco Polo Murders is due out in Spring 2010.