June 9, 2010

I couldn't ignore this is I tried

It's amazing how easily I can send myself off onto some obsessive jag.

All I have to do it to find a pdf of the meaning of the bar codes on the newest Lego collectibles, and I'm done for the day.

It doesn't take much, really.

Take, for example, my recent reading of You Couldn't Ignore Me if You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and their impact on a generation.

It's a fine book.  Hell, it's actually a really enjoyable - if slightly obsessive - book about a fairly narrow topic.  Thankfully, it's a topic that I'm all down with and that I'm all good obsessing about.

The book is, as Kirby Fields writes...
...is a series of tight essays on, for my money, the right batch of movies: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful, and, the surprise of the bunch, Say Anything. Interspersed throughout these movie-specific chapters are more general essays on topics such as John Hughes’ upbringing, the role of music in these films, and the impact of the infamous New York magazine article that coined the term “Brat Pack”. The result is a work that’s part cultural analysis, part trivia, and whole bunch walk down memory lane.

The structure of the movie-specific chapters relies on the same formula throughout: Introduce the broad overview of how the movie fits in the sequence of ‘80s youth films; examine the nuances of the casting, with special attention to the actors who did not get the part (what if Rick Moranis had been allowed to yuck it up in the role of Carl the Janitor in The Breakfast Club?); relate noteworthy on-set stories, complete with relevant pranks, tensions, and romances; then sum it all up with two pages on how the movie was received and what it all meant for the careers of the actors and the lives of the audience.
If you have any interest in - or especially if you have any love for - the movies listed in that first paragraph, grab this book.  Its an easy, enjoyable, exhaustive read that doesn't necessarily shy away from occasionally mentioning that not everything on the sets or in Shermer was roses and sunshine.  Again from Kirby Fields:
[T]he chapter on the origin of the term “Brat Pack” is noteworthy if only because it shows the very real consequences of a term that we have casually tossed around for the past 25 years. One of the handful of summative chapters near the end finally takes the movies to task for being so damn white. One of the great quotes belongs to sociologist Joshua Gamson: “I very much doubt that black urban kids were watching these movies and going, ‘Yeah, that’s me’”, If you haven’t thought about it before, take a moment to reflect on just how offensive Long Duk Dong is. He’s not Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s bad, but he’s pretty close.
But back to the obsessive jag part.

In the past couple of weeks, I've watched - or often rewatched - five of the films covered in this book.  (I'll try to hunt down St Elmo's Fire and Say Anything some time this summer, promise.)  Here are my thoughts...(in the order that I screened them this week)... 

The Breakfast Club
  • This one was always my favorite of the Hughes movies.  I watched it dozens and dozens of times throughout a few summers spent in the clubhouse at the swimming pool that my dad managed when I was growing up.  Many of those viewings were spent with my sister - neither of us desperate to hang out at the pool for another day.
  • This one has aged very well, holding pretty much every bit of the drama that it originally had.  Makes sense, really, since it's about five archetypical characters who may be products of their time but aren't necessarily limited by that time - geek, basket case, princess, jock, rebel.  The problems that each has - jock's pressure to achieve athletically, princess's pressure to be slut/saint, basket case's being ignored by family, rebel's violent home life, geek's pressure to success academically - aren't things that are in any way rooted in the 80's.  This'll last.
  • Molly Ringwald plays much more mature/older than the other films with her even though this was only filmed a year after Sixteen Candles and actually before Pretty in Pink.
  • I've said before that I somewhat identify with the principal's character, having supervised lengthy detentions like this before, but on further viewing, I still find myself connecting more with the students.  The principal is such a putz that it's tough to find anything even remotely likable or relateable in him.
  • The janitor is the same guy who played the oily bohunk in Sixteen Candles.  Who knew?
  • Hughes clearly knew these characters well.
  • I'll put this up as Hughes's finest film.  
  • Not surprising to read in the book that this is being made into a play here and there.  The setting would easily translate with almost all the action taking place in the library or a few relatively interchangeable other rooms.
  • On a ten scale, I give this a nine and would imagine that it's going to continue to be relevant to high school kids for a long time.
Pretty in Pink
  • There's no way Duckie gets the girl.  Duckie being infatuated with Andie seems like such a stupid puppy love crush that it doesn't work at all - something the book explores well with interviews with Ringwald, Cryer, Deutch.  In real life, Duckie maybe gets Andie long enough to realize that he's actually gay.
  • I wouldn't've noticed the awful toupee on Andrew McCarthy in the final scene if the book hadn't mentioned it.  (Love the book and all the trivia that I now know about these films.)
  • The classicism that Hughes mines in so many of his films is poorly done here.  Yes, we get it that Andie is poor and the McCarthy character is rich, but they both have to be so one-dimensionally rich and poor?
  • After seeing Some Kind of Wonderful, the depth of the relationship between Andie and Blane is surprisingly deep.  Yeah, they only go out on a couple of dates that we see, but that's a hell of a lot more than the 'love' in Wonderful.
  • Duckie is hilarious.  Love this character and don't have any clue why Andie would go for him in the least.  He's great comedic relief but certainly not romantic lead.
  • Annie Potts is also hilarious.  
  • James Spader is classic here.  Love him in lots of his roles, but here he does a smarmy jackass so easily and totally that it's almost endearing.
  • I wasn't in high school at the time of these films (sixth grade had just ended for me when this one came out), but does anybody have any clue is people actually dressed like these people in schools - the rich kids in Don Johnson suits and massive shoulder pads, the poor kids in quirky, thrift-store creations and wacky hats all the time?
  • If it weren't for the romantic plotline (you know, the plot of the movie), this would be an entertaining watch.  As it is, meh.
  • I'll give it a five out of ten.  This one hasn't aged well.  It's very much a product of it's era.
Some Kind of Wonderful
  • In the book, the cast joke that they were just remaking Pretty in Pink with Duckie getting the girl in the end.
  • Love Eric StoltzCan't imagine him as the lead in Back to the Future - the movie that he was doing before he got canned and went into the lead on this film.  Far too serious for that role - at least as Michael J Fox worked it.
  • Hughes's classicism comes even further to the fore here - sort of.  Supposedly Eric Stoltz's family is poor, having never had a college boy, having always worked for their money.  Yet their house looks pretty nice to me, and dad is never shown doing any kind of work - not any job, not any work around the house.  Supposedly he's a working class guy because the script says he is.  And the sister is embarrassed about their for pretty much no reason as far as I can tell.
  • Lea Thompson ended up marrying the director here.  Still together as far as I can find any info.  Interesting tidbit.
  • I do want the song that plays over the closing scene - "I Can't Help Falling in Love" by Lick the Tins.  Nice version.  I'll have to grab it from iTunes since I can't find it at the library.
  • The 'bad kids' in this movie couldn't be written more stereotypically.  The lead shows up with a knife, booze, cigarettes, nudie playing cards.  The rest look like horrifically drawn stereotypes - the gang kid with the dark sunglasses and the bandanna over his forehead, the thicknecked head banger with stoner sunglasses.  Wow...Hughes so clearly understands a very small slice of the American teenager but so clearly has no idea what some of the others are like at all.
  • The puppy love of Keith (Stoltz) for Amanda Jones (Thompson) is ridiculous.  He's never met the girl, never talked to her, but he says he loves her.  This is like some kind of weird, fifteenth century poetic love thing, but it certainly doesn't belong in a film where the true romantic lead (Watts) says that a woman can be anything in 'this day'.
  • The love by Keith for Watts isn't really any deeper.  Yeah, they've been friends for a long while, but there doesn't seem to be any real intimacy between the two, and the only thing they have to hang 'love' on is one kiss and a bunch of time spent hanging out with Watts bad mouthing Keith's other crush.
  • The transparency of the Keith, Watts, Amanda Jones naming convention (all Rolling Stones-related) is a little bit much for me.
  • I'll give this one a six out of ten, but it's not much better than Pretty in Pink.  It's basically the same film with the genders swapped and the ending going the other way.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
  • This is Hughes's last great teen movie.  He didn't direct either Pink or Wonderful, and they might've been better with him at the helm.  He didn't do much more directing after thing - Uncle Buck; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles;, She's Having a Baby; Curly Sue - and none of them were teen films.  This wraps up his involvement in the genre.
  • Much, much better film than the last two.
  • I don't remember how many sad and serious scenes there are in this one - dealing with Cameron's home life, with Ferris's realization that he's going to lose his friends next year when he goes away, Sloan's time spent with Cameron talking about Ferris, the art museum, even.  Those moments make this a much more human film than it would be without them, but they're not the big set pieces - the parade, the Porche, Rooney's escapades at Ferris's house - which are the things I always think of when I think about this movie.
  • No Brat Packers here at all.  That group died a very quick death after the moniker came into being (great chapter in the book about the article that coined that term.)
  • This one works about as well as The Breakfast Club and has aged very well, too.  Interesting to see Charlie Sheen in his first movie role.
  • I'll give this one a seven or eight out of ten.  I'm thinking this one will stay popular for a while.
Sixteen Candles
  • The father-daughter scene in the middle of the movie is a great scene, but it's not in tone with the rest of the film.  Really breaks the light-hearted mood that's been set up thus far.
  • Another example of 'love' between two people who haven't even met each other.  At least the father correctly points out that it's a crush in that scene.
  • I swear that lead love interest (Jake Ryan) is Matt Dillon.  It has to be Matt Dillon.  Has to be.
  • Anthony Michael Hall is hilarious.  This has to be one of his greatest roles.  Farmer Ted is brilliant - especially in the dance scene.  Great stuff.  Really makes the movie.
  • Long Duk Dong is entertaining, sure, but he's an offensive stereotype.  It's a weakness of the John Hughes movies that the book spends a bit of time checking out.  Hughes wrote Vacation - the only black characters steal the hub caps.  In Some Kind of Wonderful, the only black characters are non-speaking 'bad kid gangsters'.  In The Breakfast Club, there are no minorities at all (more understandable with just seven real characters in the film.  Pretty in Pink is minority-less.  If Hughes was able to capture the teen experience, it's the teen experience of white, middle class Midwesterners.  I'm good with that, but it does limit the overall influence of the genre.
  • The book mentions that Hughes was under pressure from the movie studio to include a number of juvenile humorous moments in order to tap into the Porkys market, and this one does have the only nude scene in any of the Hughes movies as such.  The clanging of the gong the first few times Long Duk Dong is mentioned or shows up on screen are awful.
  • The final scene - the table top scene - freaks me out every time.  I swear that table is going to shatter with the two people sitting on it.
  • I can see this one aging well because it, again, isn't a product of the times.  It's a sixteen-year-old girl being forgotten in the wake of her older sister's wedding.
  • Jake Ryan's move of passing his girlfriend - who he, admittedly, doesn't really like - off to a freshman with a Rolls Royce and a six pack of beer.  There may be a couple of laws broken there.
  • They don't mention date rape at any point - in the DVD extras, they do use that phrase - but clearly if the prom queen is passed out and Farmer Ted takes advantage of her, that's what he did.  Whether she enjoyed it or not, it's date rape.
  • I'll give this one an eight out of ten.
  • The Breakfast Club - great film, timeless
  • Sixteen Candles - excellent film, timeless
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off - very good film, timeless
  • Some Kind of Wonderful - dated dreck
  • Pretty in Pink - dated dreck


      Katydid said...

      Jake Ryan is not Matt Dillon. Jake Ryan is Michael Schoeffling, who was also in "Vision Quest" and "Mermaids.

      I had this book in my hand at Borders and resisted. Now I have to own it.

      Ame said...

      Several things... a) I remember watching this along with Breakin'1 and 2. Sadly I own many of these on DVD for that reason. b) I agree with your comments on Ferris. It was always a favorite of mine for some reason. I think it's because even with Ferris' messed up family, he's the kid we all wanted to be in high school. c) I always think of one of one of your friends' dates breaking the glass table on the parent's porch when I see the last scene in Sixteen Candles (side note, our neighbors growing up, the Deckers, had that same table in their dining room). d)Remind me to borrow this book from you sometime big bro.

      Oh and I may still have St. Elmo's Fire on VHS if you want to borrow it sometime.

      coachsullivan said...

      Shocking, I know, but I have both the DVDs that you said you needed to watch this summer. If you're back in town, drop by to steal them.

      PHSChemGuy said...

      Katydid - I know it's not Matt Dillon, but I'll swear that he looks identical to Dillon.

      Ame - Yeah, Breakin' was another spectacularly overwatched pair of flicks. Wayne's girlfriend at the time did break a glass table on the back porch. Sadly, I don't own this book, just grabbed it from the library.

      Sully & Ame - St Elmo's is already taken care of. It was at the library on the day we got back from Chitown.