R.I.P. John Hughes
John Hughes died yesterday. It's no overstatement to say that the man, in his writing and directing, probably defined the 1980s for a lot of people. At the very least, he made a lot of the movies I think of as "iconic" when I think about the 1980s. Between Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Hughes did a lot to define what growing up during that time in middle America meant. His vision resonated with a lot of people. One particularly moving tribute came from a woman who was his pen pal during the 1980s. Hughes seems like he was a pretty decent fellow, even at the height of his fame. Dana Stevens, at Slate, takes a broader view to much the same effect.
When Michael Jackson died, I wasn't really struck by the event largely because I am too young to remember Jackson at the height of his own fame. All I remember is the increasingly sad sight of a man hounded mercilessly by the same media that slathered him in near-hagiography until the early 1990s. Hughes, on the other hand, retired in 1994 and retreated into relatively anonymous private life. There's something to be said for that. In a way, Hughes' art never had to take a back seat to his personal life, and a lot of the images I associate with Hughes (particularly the end of The Breakfast Club or the restaurant scene in Ferris Bueller) are just that -- images I associate with John Hughes. His authorial voice, so to speak, is stronger for that.
That's what's really very extraordinary about John Hughes -- something I didn't realize until just now. He realized, at some level, that Hollywood can and often does turn on its darlings. His pen pal talked about his comments about what the industry did to John Candy. The same goes for Michael Jackson or anyone who makes a big enough statement. Orson Welles, for example, was cast out and kept out from the Hollywood establishment even as Kane was praised to high heaven. The allure of fame is well documented, as is the struggle a lot of people have with leaving the limelight. It takes someone with a fair amount of perspective to just up and leave. It takes someone who can read the writing on the wall.
While I could talk about Hughes' perspective on modern American life for middle-class teenagers, I won't. Hughes let his movies do all the talking. We should too. We should remember, furthermore, that sometimes the best way to make sure you're heard is to say almost nothing at all.