When I heard the news that John Hughes had passed away today, my first reaction was one of unabashed nostalgic when I thought about some of the movies he had made and how they entertained me. Although I was already in my mid twenties when such teenage angst films like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club defined a genre and a generation, other Hughes’ films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Uncle Buck were equally inspired cinematic accomplishments that still entertain me to this day. To be sure, a Thanksgiving hasn’t gone by since the 90s—and even with me living overseas—when I haven’t sat down to watch Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
I guess it’s only natural for us to feel a bit nostalgic and reflective when, after someone from our generation has passed away, we tend to look back at our own lives and the things that have defined who we are—even the movies we have enjoyed over the years. We might feel as though we have lost a little bit of ourselves but by waxing nostalgic we safeguard much of what is precious and important to us.
Although Hughes defined and genre and generation with his movies, before he became famous with his cinematic achievements, he had made a name for himself as a writer for National Lampoon. One of his stories would be the genesis for that 1983 classic film, Vacation:
If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever.
We were going to Disneyland. It was a dream come true. The rides! The thrills! The Mousketeers! I was so excited that I spent it the whole month of May feeling like I had to go to the bathroom. When school finally let out on a Tuesday, I sprinted home as fast as I could, even though we weren’t leaving until Friday.
Dad picked up our brand-new 1958 Plymouth Sport Suburban Six station wagon on Thursday morning. The Speedometer had only six and three-tenths miles on it. Dad said that it would be a pleasure to travel for six days in a car that smelled as good as our new Plymouth. It was nice to see Dad excited about our trip. For months Mom had to act moody and beg to get him to drive out to California.
“What good will it do to the kids to see their country from an airplane seat?” she wanted to know.
Finally, Dad gave in and said we would get a station wagon and drive the 2,448 miles from 74 Rivard Boulevard, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, to 1313 Harbor Boulevard, Anaheim California.
It took almost all day Friday to pack the car. Dad loaded and unloaded it again and again to save a square foot here, a square inch there. Then he simonized the car and hung litter bags in the front and back seats, attached a compass to the dashboard, and put a first aid kit in the glove compartment. Then he called everyone outside to take one item apiece out of the car so he could close the back.
After dinner, Dad ran the Plymouth up to Richie’s Marathon Service to gas up and have Richie check under the hood and see if everything was A-O.K. When Dad backed out of the driveway the car scraped bottom. Not a little scrape but a scccccccrrrrrrraaaaaaape!
Dad got back at 8:00. We heard the Sccccrrrraaaaape! And know it was him. Richie had said that everything was beautiful under the hood. The car was gassed up, there was plenty of oil, the tire pressure was perfect, the AAA maps were organized in the glove compartment, and the speedometer read exactly 20.00 miles.
“Okay, all you Indians! Time for bed!” Mom said.
“But it’s only 8:30!” I protested.
“We, have to get up at 4:00 in the morning! I want to make Chicago by lunch!” Dad said, shooing us upstairs.
The telephone rang at 9:45 the next morning. It was Grandpa Pete calling to see why we hadn’t gone yet. We had all overslept – even the baby, Dad was furious. I could hear him screaming and pounding his fists on the bathroom sink.
Classic Hughes yes, but it’s his movies that we will remember him the most. Ask anyone who grew up in the 80s what their top ten or twenty movies of the decade are and most likely there will be a John Hughes’ film in that list. To be sure, I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t at least one or two of Hughes’ films on most people’s lists of their favorite all-time movies. Make no mistake about it, he had an enduring influence on pop culture with his films that touched and inspired moviegoers.
Ferris Bueller is right, life moves pretty fast and if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. John Hughes gave us many cinematic memories that made us all stop and look around at life. With his movies, he made sure that we didn’t miss much.