In the Imperfect World of
By Lance Reynald
August 07, 2009
I’m going to run a bit off the farm on this one here. Allow for the author to journey through the emotional hillside with ya. Give ya a bit of pop culture tourism through the eyes of the 1980’s raised brat-pack wannabe.
It’s been a crazy few days. I’ve been pounding the pavement trying my damdest to problem solve and keep my starving artist self from starving even more and facing the very real possibility of slipping through the cracks and being homeless.
And halfway through that series of pavement pounding challenges I get a text message that John Hughes died.
I’m a bit unsure on my feet with this news. People die of heart attacks every day. My Dad was overcome by one on February 19, 2007. They happen, and with them we come to realize that great men that hold influence over you can perish in an instant. A seizure of a very powerful muscle in your chest or a skipped beat.
A father, or John Hughes, and a heart that just can’t keep at the job.
For those of you that have come across my novel already, you know I can be a bit pop culture obsessed. My formative years shaped by the good ole days when the M in Mtv was actually about music. But not just music, music videos. These beautiful images that clocked in as 4-8 minute movies that programmed our wants and desires, shattered some of our taboos about gender and conformity and made our exposure to alternative cultures and realities available to any cable subscriber coast to coast.
For my generation the programmers at Mtv were the same beacon that I imagine the internet and social networking are to the youth today.
I can’t believe I just hit the turning point of my life where I actually used the expression “the youth today”…
That is almost as unsettling as news of a heart attack. Best not to hover around that one. Sheeesh.
No real way to segue the conversation from there, but I did warn you already. I’m in a generational, emotional state… bear with me.
In 1983 my father and my step-mother left me at home with a sitter and went to see a movie with their friends.
That film was The Big Chill.
For weeks after this outing I heard my parents discuss this movie over hi-balls with their friends in our living room. It was this film that, based upon my stepmother’s declaration over a few spitzers, defined their generation.
My twelve year old’s mind didn’t understand these words. There is no abstract for the concept of generation defining to a child. You know you are different from your parents and your grandparents, but you haven’t yet begun to grasp for true identity yet. The words defines our generation still feels mysterious to you.
But then, a writer/producer/director started to define my generation.
The film he presented us with in 1984 was Sixteen Candles*. (those of you not familiar with the career of Molly Ringwald and the expectation of the later generation of the GenX spectrum need to highlight this film as part of a triadic we’ll examine a bit later.)
With Sixteen Candles we see my generations first disconnect with conventional thinking. Going into the film we all know that a girl’s sweet sixteen is one of the most pivotal transitions into her mature feminine life. Everyone knows this, it is/was an accepted fact up until this point. I suppose in some primitive cultures this still holds true.
But what if the day is forgotten? Other mechanisms of life and the steady pace of events disrupts the balance and causes our young heroine to give her panties to the geek after her grandmother cops a cheap feel in the foyer.
All is lost in a storm of teen angst chaos until in the last five minutes of film Jake Ryan shows up in a shiny Porsche (pour-shah) and tells young heroine, “I heard you were here”.
That there might just define a generation.
(or at least mind-fuck all of us… I need a minute here.)
But that birthday party on the dining table was just the start…
1985 brought us two more films; The Breakfast Club* and Weird Science.
Starting with the obvious generation definer of the two, The Breakfast Club.
Pick a character kids, there’s something for everyone in this flick. As I look back at the journey I think I can find a time in my life that I’ve been each and everyone of them. and to borrow a line from the movie it all comes down to one line to describe the experience of being all of them…
“…demented and sad, but social…”
We were all loose screws just waiting to fall out after seeing The Breakfast Club.
The soundtrack alone was stellar 1980’s new wave alternative.
I actually saw this movie with my Dad. It was one of our coolest matinee outings of my early teen years. We took a metro ride to a suburban mall to see it. At the time I just thought it was a rare, cool outing with my father. Looking back at that afternoon I’m able to see it as something else entirely.
At that time, my father was a man the same age I am now. Life had been a bit rough on him, He probably started out as John Bender and made himself into something more. He was well into his second marriage. His first wife couldn’t handle the lifestyle and took off running, leaving him with their son. He’d found a new wife and they’d started building a life together with the extra baggage of a kid from his first failed marriage. There were a few miscarriages by this point, and a new arrival in the household. His life had been challenging, challenging enough to want to take an afternoon out in the middle of the week and take his fourteen year old son out to a movie. An R rated movie. We laughed, a lot. And though it has taken me years to really imagine the hardships and challenges that brought my father and I to seeing that movie together, I look back at that afternoon and it’s one of my favorite memories of time with my Dad. Whatever brought us together to share that experience, I think we both needed the laughs. For that memory alone, TBC has a special place with me.
I could totally give equal time to Weird Science, but why bother? It’s really very simple; two computer geeks make Kelly LeBrock and get to have a crazy party with her…
Enough said. Next.
1986. Pretty in Pink* and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Not just yet. We have to cover all that PiP ground first.
By the time this film hit the screen I was beginning to engage some bigger identity questions of my own. It’s entirely possible that Pretty in Pink might have complicated matters a bit.
You see, at that point in time I still had pictures of Molly Ringwald torn out of People magazine tacked up to my bedroom wall. I was a loner at school and had started to march to the whole different drummer vibe. Because being Ducky Dales was at least a bit more interesting than being Farmer Ted from Sixteen Candles.
But I also saw something else in Pretty in Pink. I saw Annie Potts as Iona. I was mesmerized by her.
She wasn’t like most of the grown-ups in my life. She still had a vitality that most adults let go of. She seemed more like a character out of Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz. For the first time ever I saw something on the screen that was the type of adult that I wanted to become. She seemed to be what Ducky Dale could be if he could just survive high school.
Around this time my father and I started having some of our problems with each other. I’d adapted a certain character and set of quirks that his Bender background might not have been prepared for.
I laugh at it all now, because the tag/nickname actually seems funny to me. Dad and I eventually worked through all of it, he learned to accept things he didn’t always understand.
It was a tough road to that acceptance, getting the remade bad boy to accept that his firstborn was what in the late eighties got called an ArtFag.
Once again, there is no graceful segue to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
I suppose that’s ok. It fits the film. Because as much as some of the others were so strongly about finding yourself and defining our generation FBDO was different for me.
It was a pure joyride in a fancy car. A balls to the wall funfest that celebrated the precious last grasp at being a teenager and rallying your own to appreciate you.
It was the film that made us all believe that with a touch of abandon and anarchy that we could Save Ferris.
After FBDO I started to drift away from John Hughes and head more to the aesthetic of John Waters, but the foundation was set. My daydreams and expectations of the life I wanted and the friends and loves I’ve had still comes back to the films shared in those tough teen years.
The generation defining work of a brilliant guy named John Hughes, the architect of my teenage desires.
I’ll certainly never forget him…
* The Molly Ringwald triadic. In 16C , the gal gets rescued by the guy. In TBC, she makes the bad boy want for more/better. In PiP… well she did kinda pull off that dress and stunned the Duckster… really it’s everything you need to know about and expect of romance with our generation, right?
(I still want that pink Kharman Ghia.)
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