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John Hughes

John Hughes

By Patrick Samuel • December 16th, 2013

If you grew up in the 80s, like I did, there are several thing you would’ve experienced. You’d know how to work a Rubik’s Cube. You’d have at least tried to do the Moonwalk, even if you didn’t know exactly how Michael Jackson achieved it so perfectly. Your Saturday mornings were filled with some of the best cartoons you’d ever see in your whole life and you’d know the films of John Hughes and maybe hoped high school might be just as cool as he made it out to be.

John HughesJohn Hughes

Hughes’ films captured something that would define an entire decade and influence generations to come. Growing up with his films, there was something magical about them, they left me feeling hopeful about the years to come and I had an even stronger longing to reach my teenage years than I might’ve otherwise. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, and the fact that his films continue to inspire youngsters today is testament to the fact that he tapped into something that went beyond the 80s, beyond time even.

Born in Lansing, Michigan on February 18th, 1950, the young Hughes was something of a quiet kid and always on the move.

“I grew up in a neighborhood that was mostly girls and old people. There weren’t any boys my age, so I spent a lot of time by myself, imagining things. And every time we would get established somewhere, we would move. Life just started to get good in seventh grade, and then we moved to Chicago. I ended up in a really big high school, and I didn’t know anybody. But then The Beatles came along (and) changed my whole life. And then Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home came out and really changed me. Thursday I was one person, and Friday I was another. My heroes were Dylan, John Lennon and Picasso, because they each moved their particular medium forward, and when they got to the point where they were comfortable, they always moved on.” ¹
Sixteen CandlesSixteen Candles, dir. John Hughes, 1984

The family moved again in 1963, this time to Northbrook, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago where Hughes attended Glenbrook North High School, the school that would provide the inspiration for the films he’d make a couple of decades later. The future filmmaker went on to attend The University of Arizona but ended up dropping out, instead opting to sell jokes to well-established performers such as Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers which helped get him get an entry-level job at Needham, Harper & Steers as an advertising copywriter in Chicago in 1970 and later in 1974 at Leo Burnett Worldwide. While working on advertising campaigns such as the famous Edge “Credit Card Shaving Test”, Hughes would come into contact with National Lampoon magazine and the Philip Morris headquarters in New York City. He got his story, Vacation ’58, inspired by his family trips as a child, published in the magazine, along with several others. These opportunities allowed him to exercise his talent for reaching adolescent audiences, something that would prove to be valuable later on.

There’s lots more I can tell you about Hughes’ years in between the time of his first credited screenplay, Class Reunion and his directorial debut with Sixteen Candles (1984), but what I care more about is telling you what I really enjoyed about his work. I’ve never had a surprise birthday I didn’t have to plan, so in a lot of ways, year after year, I find myself relating to Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles.

Ringwald plays Samantha Baker, a high school sophomore student. She wakes up on her 16th birthday and despite being a little disappointed that she still looks and feels like a 15-year-old, she has high hopes for the day ahead of her. That’s until she goes downstairs and realises her entire family have forgotten all about her birthday. They’re all too preoccupied with her older sister Ginny’s (Blanche Baker) wedding the next day.

As Sam’s day goes from bad to worse, I continue to sympathise with some of the excruciatingly embarrassing moments she has to endure, such as being fondled by her grandparents and having to give her panties to geeky Ted (Anthony Michael Hall). This is all while she harbours a desperate crush on hunky classmate Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). Will Sam end up getting the birthday she deserves? In a John Hughes film she will, and he fills this memorable story with great lines and an infectious soundtrack that makes it hard for us to believe he could top it with an even better film, that ode to teenage rebellion and alienation, The Breakfast Club (1985).

The Breakfast ClubThe Breakfast Club, dir. John Hughes, 1985

As these five misfits, Andrew (Emilio Estevez), Allison (Ally Sheedy), Claire (Molly Ringwald), John (Judd Nelson) and Brian (Anthony Michael Hall), made to spend their Saturday in detention, let loose all their frustrations and anger, Hughes peppers the film with an infectious soundtrack that captures the mid-80’s so perfectly. Most memorable of all is Simple Minds’ anthem Don’t You (Forget About Me) which is heard toward the end as John walks across the football field and defiantly raises his fist to the air.

As I continued to watch The Breakfast Club again and again throughout my teenage years and later on in my twenties, what I realized was that it’s not just the kids who form and enforce these stereotypes, but also the authority figures. They too are guilty of wanting to neatly categorise individuals without giving them an opportunity to first of all figure out who they are. This is perhaps best remembered in the film when Brian completes the detention assignment for the group and reads it out.

“Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed.”
Ferris Bueller's Day OffFerris Bueller’s Day Off, dir. John Hughes, 1986

As powerful as The Breakfast Club is, and as memorable as its scenes are, it’s Hughes’ next film that holds the top spot in my heart for his films. The truth is, I never saw Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) while I was at school. Back then my folks were having a hard enough time trying to get me dressed in the mornings without having to deal with a film giving me any bright ideas. The thing is, those ideas were pretty much ingrained in me already. Like this one,

“The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands. It’s a good non-specific symptom; I’m a big believer in it. A lot of people will tell you that a good phony fever is a dead lock, but, uh… you get a nervous mother, you could wind up in a doctor’s office. That’s worse than school. You fake a stomach cramp, and when you’re bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It’s a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school.”

There’s a lot of truth in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, at least for me. I loved every opportunity to skip school, work or any other type of responsibility – I still do! This is another of Hughes’ films I never get tired of, especially on a day when I’m shirking those heavy adult responsibilities and playing hooky. But if there’s one thing it teaches us, it’s that life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Uncle BuckUncle Buck, dir. John Hughes, 1989

Over the next few years, Hughes directed Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) and She’s Having a Baby (1988), two films which I still haven’t seen (I don’t like to rush good things!), but the one after that is one I still remember well. Having a small nephew and niece at the time we first saw Uncle Buck, there was a lot that teenage me could relate to. I often got them into trouble, passed on a lot of bad habits and imparted on them the same silly sense of fun I’ve always had – kind of like Uncle Buck (john Candy) himself. But there were some differences.

Buck drinks, gambles, chain smokes, is unable to hold down a job or commit to his girlfriend and he’s a complete disaster to have around the house. That’s why Cindy Russell (Elaine Bromka) is hesitant to let her husband Bob (Garrett M. Brown) give his brother a call to come and look after their three kids, Tia (Jean Kelly), Miles (Macaulay Culkin) and Maizy (Gaby Hoffman), when her dad suffer a heart attack and they have to go out of town to visit him.


  • [1] Current Biography Yearbook, Volume 52 (1992), H. W. Wilson Co.

What really makes this film standout is the banter between Culkin and Candy. They made a great comedy pair and it’s partly their facial expressions together with perfect timing that has always me stitches, especially the scene where Miles interrogates Buck, resulting in the line “I’m a kid, that’s my job”.

Though Hughes went on to write and produce more films than he directed, what he gave us with Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Uncle Buck are treasures that left a long lasting impression both on my childhood and the decade I spent it in. When he passed away on August 6th, 2009, after suffering a heart attack while walking in Manhattan, I remember this feeling of sadness coming over me, like a light had gone out in the world, but with these films, it’s like that light of youth still burns. In him, in me, in us all.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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