OWF Spends a Night In With Two John Hughes Classics

A few weeks ago I promised to report back on my 1980s themed movie night that we were using to test of the Blockbuster/T-Mobile five things for a fiver deal- well, eventually, here we have it. A little belated, I know. But these things take time.

For those who don't remember, this was the starting point of the idea for the Film Night:

With the new promotion, the pair (T-Mobile and Blockbusters) are offering movie and gaming fans the fairly impressive opportunity to rent one film and one game (or two movies), as well as buying three items of snacky goodness to enjoy at the same time for two nights for only five pounds.

So, the original plan was to take two films and one video game along with the two snack options on offer to test out both possible combinations on offer. Slight change of plan on that front, with the game ditched in favour of just going with the two film, and to keep the spirit of my 1980s movie night unsullied. Still very much happy with the original plan of a popcorn and Coke accompaniment though.

Read on to find out how it all (eventually) went, and to read what ended up being my tribute to the late great John Hughes...

Take two films. Add a dash of 80s cult appeal, and a splash of iconic director. Serve with the kind of filmic charisma that makes audiences eat out said director's hand to such a degree that films with such an indelible sense of their own time can somehow become timeless classics. Et Voila, you have a perfect double serving of John Hughes. Namely Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, the two films that arguably had the most lasting effect on my then-young mind when I first saw them. Hell, they still profoundly affect me now when I watch them.

John Hughes is as important a figure in the genetic make-up of the culture of the 1980s as anyone imaginable- he wrote a frankly astonishing number of the most successful films of the decade (form which continued, albeit rather briefly, into the early part of the 1990s), thanks in no small part to his ability to draw character portraits and build on-screen relationships in his scripts. And consider this: the films that really shook up the decade's box-office- Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Back To The Future, E.T.- all relied upon cinematic innovation, and enjoyed healthy financial boosts because of their newness. In contrast Hughes relied on his characters and plots to drive the success of his films- chances are, were the great man still alive and making movies today he would be one of the highest profile figures to be ignoring the 3D "revolution". Or at least I'd like to think so.

Anyway, I gathered a select few companions for the film night, charging each with coming along dressed up in 80s flavoured fancy dress- I myself decided on a rather fetching generic ensemble, matching garish sweat bands and day-glo with high-top ssneaks, thickk rimmed Top Gun shades and a white blazer with rolled up sleaves (looking way, way too much like one of the portly fellows in Olivia Newton John's "Physical" video crossed with Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame). I wasn't let down, although one friend managed to misinterpret the entire specifications by coming dressed as a zombie.

Suitably attired, we settled down to watch the films, scoff popcorn and drink fizzy pop in the company of Hughe's patented characters, expecting to find ourselves and each other in amongst his beautiful words and direction. Or to at least just have a blast and watch some questionably old looking teenagers stick it to the man and further the stereotyped filmic idea that self-expression and individuality within the institution of school are dependent upon some slightly naughty activities. And even though it was all a good laugh, and the night went down a storm, I found myself getting all intellectually stimulated- must have been all the sugar in the Coke- so I've decided to offer up some of my thoughts to you lot, in a belated and overdue mini-tribute to the late great man himself- Mr John Hughes.

The thing you still notice first about Hughes' stable of movies, particularly Ferris Bueller and Home Alone (but not the two films we watched on the T-Mobile Night In) is that he seems to revel in breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience. It was always part of that charm that Hughes' films sparkle with- being directly appealed to, especially by a roguish character with a glint in their eye (Hughes' characters are very rarely entirely clean-cut), is an incredibly clever technique for making an audience feel included. Shakespeare himself built up an often troubling rapport between audience and character (especially malevolent ones like Iago) through direct-to audience Asides, making it near impossible to build up a black and white idea of morality in his plays. Like Shakespeare, Hughes is perpetually interested in presenting morality as a series of shades of grey- authority figures, like The Breakfast Club's Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason in the iconic role that he rather unforgivably later brought back to screen for Not Another Teen Movie) are usually deemed to be the villainous despite their intention to keep main characters on the straight and narrow.

Hughes cements every idea he has about morality, personal discovery (invariably morphed into the Hughes-staple tagline "coming-of-age") and familial relationships by using characters who often work as elaborate ciphers for personality traits or personified societal products. This is no more obvious than in The Breakfast Club, where each character is presented as a member of a different high-school clique, while also inherently representing deeper ideas: these were the caricatures that were informed by Hughes' experiences of high school, but which curiously went on to be the basis for almost every high-school movie made in the aftermath of The Breakfast Club, and then ended up informing real high-school cliques. I myself became extremely sucked in by the characters, I wanted my own Molly Ringwald to marry, I wanted to have Emilio Estevez's toughs, Brian's smarts, Amy's artistry and most of all I wanted to be as cool and irreverent as Judd Nelson. Sadly, I have Brian's toughs, Judd Nelson's smarts, Emilio's artistry and I'll probably marry the clearly insane Amy-type, who will write my poems in blood about how disappointed she is in my lack of passion. And it will probably be my blood, at that.

Looking back at the film, surrounded by my closest friends, I found myself looking at them in terms of which Hughes character they best fit with- I definitely have a Judd Nelson in there (though he has definitely been calmed by the arrival of his first-born to his Molly Ringwald wife), there is a less severely nerdy Brian, who thinks he's a jock. And then there's me- I hope an informed amalgamation of every on of the characters. Rather wistfully, I actually realised at this point that my thoughts even had a Simple Minds soundtrack behind them. When I think about it, Hughes had even more of a profound effect on me than I realised.

Above all else, I must personally thank Hughes for his use of the Geek as a positive character type, usually through one of his muses Anthony Michael Hall and starting in Sixteen Candles (in which he actually refers to Hall's character in the credits as "the Geek") making it infinitely easier for people of my generation to embrace and cherish their Geekdom. Without Hughes, OWF might never have been anything but a flash of fancy in the minds of our fair leaders Matt and Peter, instead of this glorious Geeky haven you see before you. Without Brian in The Breakfast Club and The Geek in Sixteen Candles, I probably wouldn't be here right now either- those characters taught us that it was possible to be a dork and to still get the girl- well ok, to nearly get laid of A girl, but the film's leading lady, and that it was possible to be included while still being definably an outsider.

Sixteen Candles was also pretty much the first moment I realised that films didn't need to be chocked full of explosions or monsters to capture my attention- I began to see the endless possibilities offered in gentler portraits of almost real-life. And I didn't miss the hyper-reality of the genre films I had been weened on up until then at all. Somewhat sadly, Sixteen Candles will also be remembered as the origin point for the million adolescent comedies that followed in the 90s and into the 00s, thanks to American Pie- the regeneration point for the genre- clearly referencing The Geek's attempt to bed his girlfriend to satisfy the terms of a bet with his friends. It would be near impossible to imagine the genesis of any of those characters without The Geek, as each is essentially no more than a caricature of Michael Anthony Hall's nerdy ne'erdowell. In short, I owe a great deal to Mr Hughes. Without him I would have a very stunted film collection, without some of the richest character portraits ever committed to the screen.

You see the power of movies?! I approached this as a simple Film Night, looking to explore a promotion I'd picked up on, and take advantage of two films for a fiver, and yet I channelled something deeper somewhere in there. Whatever, I just loved the opportunity to have another look at some seminal John Hughes films, and marvel again at how Hughes creates his characters and their relationships. The man was an utter genius in that respect.

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