Saturday, August 8, 2009

Program Notes

John Hughes died Thursday in Manhattan, apparently of a heart attack while visiting family. Hughes started his career as an writer in advertising and ended it as a farmer in Illinois. In between, during the 80's and 90's, he wrote and directed some of the seminal popcorn movies of those decades, the most successful being "Home Alone," which was directed by Chris Columbus. But Hughes is probably more familiar for his so-called "Brat Pack" movies ("Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club," "Weird Science," and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off") as well as "Uncle Buck," and "Planes, Trains & Automobiles ." His last film as a director was "Curly Sue" in 1991. Retired from the Holywood scene, he still continued to write screenplays under the psuedonum Edmond Dantes, probably as his name became so familiar with the sub-genre of comedies known as "John Hughes" movies.

Hughes started out as a writer for National Lampoon, and his films as both director and writer are known for their anarchic spirit, breaking rules of physicality and presentation to absurdist proportions. One got the impression, watching Hughes' movies, that the audience was a participant in the films with characters acting out for the benefit of the audience, addressing them directly, and making them privy to their innermost thoughts (and reaction shots much like Macaulay Culkin's Munch-like emblematic scream to the camera in "Home Alone"). Music was important to Hughes, particularly the music of the day although his soundtracks would be a hodge-podge of sources and styles, such as "Ferris Bueller's" range from "Oh, Yeah" by Yello to the theme from "I Dream of Jeannie."

Hughes tip-toed (with accompanying piano tickles) from live-action sensibilities to the cartoonish, as well as emotions from the harsh to the sentimental. He had a silent director's mastery of the slow burn, and the comic pause. Hughes' movies had bite to them, and if his movies ended on a comforting note, it usually required a path through thorns for the audience. His films lacked complacency.

I don't know that I'd call Hughes' films works of art, but the Looney-Toonish "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (with Matthew Broderick as Bugs Bunny), and "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (with two stand-out performances by Steve Martin and John Candy) are high on my list for an evening's entertainment.


Speaking of cartoons, here's a brilliant idea from the TruTV Channel: "Man Vs. Cartoon." In a bit of a knock-off of the "MythBusters" series, this team of experts attempts to recreate the various traps employed in the "Roadrunner" cartoons, created by Michael Maltese and Chuck Jones.

Now, that, I'd like to see. Here's a taste.

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