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Music in John Hughes’ Films – Women’s Studies Senior Seminar Paper (Dec. 2011)
“I’d rather be making music than movies,” John Hughes told Rolling Stone in 1985 (Sheffield).
John Hughes’ teen films shaped youth culture and popular music by fusing music on the border of American cultural consciousness with montage and final scenes that were incomplete without music, which bolstered the popularity of the music and his films. The ways that music complements a scene, particularly the performance of gender and identity, demonstrate how the film production collaborates and reclaims a musical space.
Traditional gender roles are re-inscribed in these scenes that circulate a post-feminist discourse and emphasize traditional masculinity and femininity as gender is performed by actors and actresses. [i] These scenes are constructed in a predominantly white, heterosexual context wherein race and sexual acts are rendered invisible. Divisions of class exist in a mid-1980s conservative location in which the struggle to confront such divisions are consigned to an individual (rather than structural) struggle of what constitutes empowerment, engaging themes of individuality, romance, and family.
Focusing on montage and final scenes because it is these images imprinted on generations of viewers, my research will examine the creative approach of Hughes in writing scenes and selecting music for the films Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Weird Science (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). Aside from these films and soundtracks, this research will draw from scholarly discourse on the influence of film and music on the formation of youth culture and gender, supplemented by journalistic articles that address the impact on pop culture of Hughes’ integration of music and studies of gender within his films.
Short analyses of the scenes which feature the songs “Pretty in Pink” (Psychedelic Furs), “We Are Not Alone” (Karla Devito), “Danke Schoen” (Wayne Newton), “Twist & Shout” (The Beatles), “Try A Little Tenderness” (Otis Redding), “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” (Simple Minds), “If You Were Here” (Thompson Twins), “If You Leave” (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark), “Oh Yeah” (Yello), and “Weird Science” (Oingo Boingo) will illustrate what the creative process accomplished in constructing gender, class, and youth culture.
“If the boomers had Woodstock, Generation X had John Hughes” (Martens).
By sculpting mix tapes to accompany his pictures, Hughes captured the sound most closely associated with the cultural era at its most diverse in songs played by groups most young people did not have a clue of until their music was featured in his films (Wener). Sending obscure songs into the best seller list, Hughes’ films flaunt his “distant penchant for Anglo electric sounds and his ability to pick complementing music” that makes the films and songs more memorable (Cocker). John Hughes’ integration of pop music into his films was a massive, cultural cross-producing mania. Although Hughes was not the first or the last in the industry to integrate music into film successfully, he “took what may otherwise have been mediocre songs and elevated them to 3-minute commercials for his movies.” Hearing Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” Oingo Boingo’s “Weird Science,” Psychedelic Furs’ “Pretty in Pink,” and Thompson Twins “If You Were Here,” automatically makes people recall The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, and Sixteen Candles without much effort (Morton).
Music was crucial to the creative process of John Hughes, whose films derive much of their power from their soundtracks (Lewis). Montages were a common product of filmmaking in the 1980s, but were embraced by John because of his relationship with music (The Breakfast Club). Hughes was “both influenced by music and used music to influence the mood of his films” (Cocker). The director was known for being “ahead of the curve on music,” writing screenplays while listening to music, knowing that a certain type of music would be playing to the scenes as he was writing, and working with it by bringing compilation tapes to the set (The Breakfast Club).
Pretty in Pink
Widely considered one of the best New Wave compilations, the Pretty in Pink soundtrack was a product of John Hughes who “introduced [Director Howard Deutch] to…most of the music in [the] movie [that Hughes] felt was more organic to the script,” said Deutch (Pitchfork; Pretty in Pink). Pretty in Pink, a film about teenage love and socio-cultural struggle, was written by Hughes after actress Molly Ringwald told him about the Psychedelic Furs song for which it was named (Cocker). Hughes wrote the screenplay around the flop single originally released by the Furs five years earlier, then had the band reproduce it so it was not “so raw” (Lewis; The Breakfast Club). Featuring the song prominently in the film, “catapulted the band from the college crowd to one that was owned by the masses” (Martens). Hughes’ insistence that the song be the opener of the film proved his understanding that “sound actually dominates the visual presentation by announcing the visually interesting” (Pretty in Pink; Williams 137).
Pretty in Pink’s opening scene is a shot of Andie who “swims into our consciousness feet first: the camera, in a tight close-up on [her] legs,” then shows the “otherwise fully dressed young woman as she puts on her stockings” (Vincent). The audience is meant to see this woman as beautiful because she takes individual responsibility (contrasted by her disoriented father whom she cooks breakfast for and motivates to get out of bed so he can go see about a job) for her “volcanic ensemble,” taking the time to make her clothes and apply makeup and lip-stick before school because social class and femininity are partly articulated through appearance (Pretty in Pink). Andie’s meticulous self-monitoring, surveillance, and discipline are actions taken to preserve the possession of an attractive body because “femininity as bodily property” holds the body as the key source of a woman’s power and identity (Gill 255). Furthermore, Andie holds power and is “pretty” partly because she embraces the traditional gender roles of housekeeper and caretaker (Pretty in Pink). Despite her being poor, living a place “in the side of our lives where nothing is ever put straight,” this scene portrays Andie as independent and proud with “sweetly eccentric taste in clothes (from thrift shops),” as the montage song continues, “she turns herself round and she smiles” (Vincent).
We Are Not Alone
The “We Are Not Alone” montage in The Breakfast Club, Hughes’ most mature film, was particularly effective because it served as a cathartic release after such a hard confession-meets-group-therapy- type scene. Striking a particular resonance at the moment it intervened, the song is identified not just from a time period, but from the period (scene) in the film (Chion 150; The Breakfast Club). “It’s the way the songs were juxtaposed with the scene that made them effective…The songs themselves were not super cutting edge, but they’re…used so well [and] not just dropped in there. The timing is always impeccable,” said Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody (The Breakfast Club).
Preempting the “We Are Not Alone” montage, the “smoke circle” confession scene explores the double bind, alienation, identity, peer-group identification, bullying, and the role of parents as a source of teen angst (Brammer 23). Rock is used in the scene as a “social tool to express disenchantment with the school [and] family” (Williams 23). It addressed the issue of high school cliques, and was “explicit that these cliques were defined party [by] socioeconomic status” (Bleach 25). Claire speaks about the social pressures within her elitist clique. Allison lets Andy and Brian know that her home life is “unsatisfying” because her parents ignore her. Bender and Andy communicate how their fathers constantly assault and pressure them. Brian reveals how academic pressure has affected him to the point where he intended to commit suicide. “What was interesting [and] new about The Breakfast Club was the fact that it took teenagers concerns seriously. It was intense…it did not condescend to its audience…it was a serious film about young people’s emotions and that was what made it punk-rock,” said Diablo Cody (The Breakfast Club).
Each character shares a different story explaining why they have received the punishment of Saturday detention, forcing the audience to empathize with the self-conscious characters in their contradictory search of identity as they begin to relate to and see their peers for who they really are (Cocker; Grossberg 196-7). A serious conversation about the pressure of real expectations ends with a joke as Allison reveals she is in detention because she had nothing else better to do, demonstrating Howard Deutch’s take in that “John will always give you a laugh and a cry” (Pretty in Pink). All of the characters dance as Karla Devito’s lyrics resound: “we’re really not so different after all” (The Breakfast Club). It is the perfect marriage of lyrics and scene in a montage because it invokes the possibilities of belonging and understanding each other on an individual level (Grossberg 196-7).
Danke Schoen/Twist & Shout
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off arguably contains Hughes’ most famous montage scene as Ferris “mimes [Danke Schoen] and ‘Twist and Shout’ in the German day parade in Chicago to thousands of people” (Cocker). The act of owning a parade on the streets of downtown Chicago was a high school fantasy in an adventure that idealized the notion of playing hooky and created a perfect universe “where teenagers ran the show” (Cocker; Martens). Hughes captured imagination in the ultimate moment of teen rebellion, which “took us there, and forever glued a song to the…emotion” with a marching band playing The Beatles “Twist and Shout (Martens). Although Paul McCartney had mentioned in an interview articulated a distaste of the addition of horns to the song, the parade scene – a scene in which filming people all over the immediate area showed up and starting singing along, put the song back on the Billboard charts, making it the first time in years a song from The Beatles had been on the charts, according to Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). The music impact of Hughes’ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off transcends generations as “many Generation Y kids first got an inkling of The Beatles by twisting and shouting through the parade scene” (Wener).
The production’s impact and notoriety in contemporary society depends largely on the relationship between music video and rock culture – a culture that partly emerged from youth films, such as The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Grossberg 191-4). Rock functions as a “symbol of teenage rebellion,” but also “supports the capitalist society that teens are rebelling against” (Williams 23-6). Ferris, like many of Hughes’ characters, rebelled within the confines of conformity, escaping school for the day, but instead of “frittering the time away and going to the beach, he and his friends visit an art gallery and the stock exchange finally culminating in the German-American parade” (Cocker). The scene demonstrates how “rock, for all the power of its individual dreams, is still confined by its mass culture [with a] history of class struggle – the struggle for fun” (Williams 25). Ferris accepts his “imprisonment, and only seek[s] out temporary escapes, moments when the reality of life is manifested because of his own power, through his own actions” (Grossberg 195).
Still, Hughes’ teen characters were “smarter, cooler, [and] more ingenious than [teens] had ever been shown,” giving young adults “something to aspire to” (Cocker). It was music video style that expressed the possibilities inherent in the perceptual world (Williams 7). The ultra-confident, super-stud Ferris was at the “top of the social tree, but [cut] through the sub-cultural mix,” tying up all the cliques (Brammer). As the school secretary informs the principal, the sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, and dickheads all adore him (Benfer). Ferris’ popularity and ability to transcend social position is also demonstrated in the parade scene that is undoubtedly Hughes’ most racially inclusive scene, bolstered by the inclusive power of sound (Williams 73). Although nearly every main character is white in Hughes’ teen movies and the only prior black characters seen in this film are the school nurse and car thief, the parade scene “many be one of the most inclusive of the ‘80s – the only time you see blacks, whites, Asians, and blondes in braids with lederhosen all jamming together” (Benfer). This is particularly interesting because the “spectacularly theatrical fashion” of the scene conveys it is “more about playing at inclusiveness” with an illusory quality as it is “far less realistic than the way [Hughes’] best movies dissect the tiny, nuanced things that divide great swaths of people” (Benfer).
The most simplistic thematically of Hughes’ films, his self-proclaimed “love letter to the city” of Chicago, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has “an almost inexplicable timelessness” because the struggle for self-discovery can be identified as a timeless element of the teen experience (Brammer; Craig). Its parade scene effectively conveys that struggle through Ferris’ best friend Cameron whose dialogue with Sloane, Ferris’ girlfriend, is bookended with Danke Schoen and Twist & Shout. “There’s nothing [Ferris] can’t handle. I can’t handle anything – school, parents, future. Ferris can do anything. I don’t know what I’m going to do” says Cameron who tells Sloane he is not interested in anything as she shares his sentiment (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Sloane was more interested in what Ferris was going to do than with her own plans for the future; she often seemed as though she lacked an identity outside of being Ferris’ girlfriend and her unfazed demeanor upon seeing Ferris flirt with other women on the parade float communicated that the “perfect” girlfriend was accepting of her boyfriend’s need to seek pleasure by any means. This dialogue between Sloane and Cameron reflects how the scene engaged the themes of uncertainty, fear of maturity, and possibilities of identity, but how a joke changed the mood and tone of the scene, cueing a shift from Danke Schoen to Twist & Shout (Grossberg 196-7; Leitch). Sloane asks, “What do you think Ferris is gonna do?” “He’s gonna be a fry cook at Venus,” jokes Cameron. This scene epitomized the ways in which John Hughes shaped youth culture in his films, through the integration of music into his scriptwriting. “The way [John Hughes] writes – it’s sincere and it’s touching and then a joke…so he pulls you in that undertow of story writing,” explained Howard Deutch, Hughes’ protégé and the director of Pretty in Pink.
Try A Little Tenderness
The most notable montage scene in Pretty in Pink is the one in which Duckie makes a spectacle of himself by entering Iona’s record store, Andie’s workplace, dancing to Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” for his friend and unrequited love Andie. Redding’s soulful music serves as the context in which the theme of affectionate romance is explored (Brammer). The sounds themselves tell the story, providing depth, impact, and velocity to the visual scene (Williams 55-137). In a story about “falling in love,” this scene is “about a kid who can’t tell a girl he loves her, so he’s going to do something instead,” says Director Howard Deutch (Cocker; Pretty in Pink). Dancing to the words of Otis, Duckie pours his heart out to the “tender” Andie as the music speaks his thoughts (Pretty in Pink; Sptiz). The scene works because Duckie’s love is true and the song says what he cannot (Pretty in Pink). “It transcended what I initially wanted it to be, which was just a slice of entertainment because he loved her so much…It moved people and it wasn’t just a dance number. It was something more. It was his way of telling [her] I can’t say this to you but I’m…crazy about you,” said Deutch (Pretty in Pink).
Economically disadvantaged, clownish, and good-hearted Duckie, loves Andie dearly and “deserves her, according to the tenets [of] fiction,” but instead Andie ignores her best friend whose attentions are sincere (Maslin, “Film: ‘Some Kind;” Vincent). Andie, the unpopular girl from the wrong side of town, becomes “fixated on [BMW-driving] rich, heedless, and good-looking” Blane (Maslin, “Film: John Hughes’s”). Pretty in Pink informs the understanding and explorations of contemporary post-feminist culture by engaging with feminism and then rearticulating it. Feminism is “taken into account” in this scene that shows the bonding potential of young women as members of the workplace, exploring the concept an empowering strategy and gesturing that women can be independent and self-sufficient (Bleach 40-2). As Andie waits for Blane to pick her up from work, applying “wishful” makeup, it is implied within the montage scene that “working is merely making time until your rich Prince Charming arrives to rescue you from your class position [because] the surest path toward economic well-being and empowerment for a woman is only temporarily connected with work” (Bleach 43). The “Try A Little Tenderness” scene persists as a “return to traditional gender ideologies in new “liberated guises,” and is thus, the essence of post-feminism (Rodgers).
“‘Try A Little Tenderness just endures forever as such a good song that it became a show-stopper,” Deutch said (Pretty in Pink). As “one of the most incredible [and memorable] performances of ‘Try A Little Tenderness,’” it was how many Generation Y kids first came to hear an Otis Redding song other than “(Sittin on) The Dock of the Bay,” which illustrates the enduring musical impact of John Hughes’ films (Wener).
Don’t You (Forget About Me)
Simple Minds may have been popular in the United Kingdom and on the fringes of American youth culture before The Breakfast Club, but after the film’s release the song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” shot to the top of the charts, “acclerat[ing] their ascent to U2-aping stadium-rock goliaths, and the song remains a symbol of teen films (Lewis; Martens). “It didn’t matter if one was a fan of Simple Minds’ four and a half minutes of synth rock romanticism – battle lines are drawn over music when one is a teen – it captured a moment, and a movement” (Martens). In this scene, John Hughes captured what the emotional tone, mood, and sound of 1980s pop culture, “forever etch[ing the song] like a woodburner into the memories of a generation” (Martens).
“The songs on most soundtracks [did] not immediately lock one’s memory banks onto a film in which they were featured…until John Hughes came along,” (Morton). John Hughes was not “trying to shove records into movies, [instead] he was trying to find a new sound,” Deutch said (Pretty in Pink). The infectiousness of the songs are attributed to the timing, story material, and characterization of his movies. “Hughes was supplying something a whole lot more personal and confident and bold, his stories told in part through ‘modern rock,’ the music and the images – Bender’s fist frozen in the air at the close, Claire’s earring in his ear – needed to be together forever” (Spitz).
Music in his films still resonates because Hughes understood “music is as much a part of the teenage landscape as angst and alienation” (Smith). Calling John Hughes the “master of 1980s youth films,” Lawrence Grossberg, an internationally renowned scholar of cultural studies and popular culture, states that the music in Hughes’ films defines the site of youth struggle as rock is the “soundtrack of youth’s media [commercial] representations of youth’s own struggles for salvation and identity” (Grossberg 194-8). Characters in The Breakfast Club use rock as the “empowering occasion for transgression” (Grossberg 197). As the letter to Mr. Vernon, the principal, reads, “We think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions” (The Breakfast Club).
Characterized by “anti-adult” traits such as irresponsibility and hedonism, youth culture was theoretically introduced around the same time as the birth of rock (Williams 24). The Breakfast Club, like many of Hughes’ films, exemplifies youth culture’s critical attitude toward the idea of adulthood with the famous line “when you grow up, your heart dies.” It “valoriz[es] adolescence as an unchanging, self-justifying system of values,” because “the whole system [adults] represent is so hypocritical,” hence its ending with the “heroes’ discovery of the common humanity that [imposed] adult categories have sought to suppress…while excluding [the] bullying teacher who has been keeping them in detention from any participation in that humanity” (Brammer; Leitch). Five Stereotypes – a brain, an athlete, a princess, a basketcase, and a criminal, are utilized advantageously because the audience already has a “certain understanding of the characters,” who inevitably “break their mould” in undergoing different transformations that reveal their complex identities (Cocker).
Allison’ physical transformation typifies the dominant “makeover paradigm” as she transforms from a modern grunge to a make-up wearing, jock pleasing “boring princess,” implies that physical appearance is the only thing that matters (Cocker; Gill; Lewis). It is seen as “one of the most appalling cop-outs in film” because Allison was “the only truly individual character” (Cocker; Lewis). Claire bonding with Allison demonstrates feminine empowerment, but it is accomplished “via the application of beauty products” (Bleach 39). Feminism is taken into account as the scene displays liberation, agency, and desire, but it is also redefined in “promoting transformation solely as a result of individualism and a desire for consumer goods” (Bleach 32). Instead of tolerating or celebrating the differences between women of different socio-economic classes, the film conveys the notion that “anyone can become a member of the upper class as long as she acquires the right stuff” (Bleach 39). Allison’s differences are “erased (and conveniently forgotten) by the workings of the upper class” (Bleach 40). This scene embodied the “individualist and transformative economic policies of Reagan’s presidency, as well as the culture of wealth and acquisition encouraged by these policies [which] touted the importance of the consuming, self-transforming individual” (Bleach 32).
Hughes’ films approach gender and class by using class differences as the basis for romantic plots, expressing that the “metaphor of romance…promotes the persistence of class differences by suggesting that they ultimately make no difference” (Bleach 26). Serious exploration of teen issues concerning alienation and the impenetrable high school social order throughout the film’s “soul-baring dialogue about sex, parents, school, and the future” results in “clunky” romantic pairings that cross socio-economic class (Bleach 37; Brammer). The sophisticated, powerful, and privileged Claire seems to couple with a lower-class Bender so she “can indulge a standard ‘bad-boy’ fantasy,” while he is traditionally depicted as a slave to the male sex drive (Brammer). Claire uses her power to express rebellion by giving Bender one of her diamond earrings and kissing him in front of her father’s car (Bleach 38). This comes after she has successfully stroked the ego of Brian – the “geek” who is on a lower rung of the social ladder, so he can carry out the detention assignment to write an essay which “lets everyone else off the hook” (Bleach 38). In this sense, Claire as the post-feminist heroine is invested in leaving class positions intact because she can only stand to benefit from remaining in power, despite momentary class leveling (Bleach 38). The films’ ending may express a desire for leveling of class differences on a “personal/emotion” level, but certainly not on a “structural/rational” one (Bleach 26).
These five characters “transcend rigid high school order” and break down barriers by exploring and exemplifying their differences and similarities, but their worlds won’t change in a day, as the characters identify (Brammer). Still, the happy ending in this movie where teenagers found love and friendship “left you feeling good about yourself, your future [which was] not easy for a teenager” (Craig).
“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” resounds even following the freeze frame as a “soaring anthem and you get that sense of triumph at the end of the movie with Bender…pumping his fist in the air,” declared Diablo Cody (The Breakfast Club). It emphasized the importance of individual solutions to class differences as the “dramas of class warfare end…with the triumph of individuality” (Bleach 26). Because “sound’s greatest influence on film is manifested at the heart of the image itself,” the audience focuses on how valorized adolescent values, such as directness, outspokenness, independence, and self-idealization, are arranged to “triumph over the discredited adult values they oppose” (Chion 149; Leitch). Hughes’ integration of sound with attitude into the producing of this scene exemplifies how despite being actively subordinated, youth is a position that can empower itself to survive and transcend its social position, seemingly pushing other consideration into the background (Grossberg 196-7). “If you think about it, it’s just a movie about a Saturday spent in detention and yet you feel like some battle has been won…That’s effective use of music,” said Cody.
If You Were Here
Music used effectively reveals “what it wants us to see in the image” (Chion 144). This was no more apparent than in the final scene of Sixteen Candles where the Thompson Twins’ “If You Were” captured “gooey romantic anticipation” (Martens). Samantha Baker lifts her head when she exist the church to see that the many obstructions and obstacles have cleared, leaving nothing standing in between her view of heartthrob crush Jake Ryan who is leaning up against his red Porsche shyly waving to her from across the street.
It is the classic fairy tale story that engages ideals of traditional femininity and romance, wherein the ideal, seemingly unattainable boy rescues the passive girl by taking her away from the chaos that, in this case, is her vacuous sister’s wedding. Still, grounded in realism, the portrait of this suburban life makes it seem possible because it is in essence a story about a girl whose preoccupied family forgets her birthday, thus its appeal to the audience (Cocker).
The sound and lyrics “If you were here, I could deceive you,” were dark and real and forces the audience to focus on the perfection that is high school senior Jake Ryan – rich and devastatingly handsome with his sweater vest, jeans, and shiny black hair (Spitz, Stuever). Its melody continues in the next scene where the two sit across from each other atop a dining room table at Jake’s big house separated only by a birthday cake aglow with candles. The frame freezes with Sam and Jake kissing as they lean over the cake. “This image of them sitting on top of the dining room table burned hot and permanent into the post-boomer female psyche” (Stuever).
Teen characters in Hughes’ films are “indulging in romance rather than sex,” as evident in this final scene and other encounters culminating in a kiss rather than any sexual act (Cocker). Although sometimes superficially advocating a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, sex is visually absent in his films, thereby reflecting the context of 1980s conservatism in which youth must work out a sense of frustration and alienation (Grossberg 197). “My pictures…are more accurate in portraying people as romantic – as wanting a relationship, an understanding with a member of the opposite sex, more than just physical sex,” said Hughes (Cocker). As the most popular boy in school, Jake serves as the eternal hope in something more – something better. Neither he nor Samantha needs to grow because “they’re already complete when the credits roll” (Leitch).
The romance plot in Sixteen Candles does not lead to the “promise of permanent commitment and social renewal, but to the timeless apotheosis of teen love” (Stuever). Jake stands the test of time because of the way music was used in the scene that pushed other considerations into the background as the film was are often naively racist, sexist, and homophobic in the situated structural background (Grossberg 197). When Sam thanks Jake Ryan for “getting [her] undies back” from Farmer Ted (the anti-Jake) and the romantic song continues, the audience focuses on his sensitivity and affection, despite him only pursing her after he finds a “sex test” indicating that he would be the one boy she would “do it” with and him beating up the foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong (Stuever). “One of the worst Asian stereotypes ever committed to film,” the “Donger” is accompanied with a resounding gong each time he appears on screen, thereby reinforcing that he does not fit in because he is Asian (Benfer; Cocker). Race is rendered invisible in most of Hughes’ movies with nearly ever main character being white, which emphasizes the political incorrectness of a character like Long Duk Dong (Brammer). Likewise, in this scene, the music calls for the audience to cherish the happiness of Sam, the freckly and insecure sophomore whose romantic dreams have come to fruition, regardless of how she treated “the geek” Farmer Ted in calling him a “total fag” on the bus and how she and her friend react to the idea of a black guy as a boyfriend with a sense of shock and disdain (Sixteen Candles).
In terms of sexual politics, John Hughes movies were often not progressive, merely reflecting “some of the prejudices of their time” (Benfer). At the film’s conclusion, the audience places the character of Jake Ryan on a pedestal as the perfect boyfriend, discounting his sending off the popular Caroline, his barely conscious girlfriend, to the geek in his father’s Rolls Royce when she is too drunk to do anything – including consent (Benfer). Caroline eventually wakes up the next morning with her hair chopped not remembering what happened, but says that she has this “weird feeling” she enjoyed it (Benfer).
Mr. Baker (Sam’s father) smiling and motioning okay as Jake picks his daughter up from the church is meant to validate “Sam’s individualism and acquisition of status by finding a partner above her [socioeconomic] class,” which she aspires to throughout the film, wanting a “big party and a band, with tons of people [and] a black Trans Am” (Bleach 35). This final scene illustrates a new definition of empowerment as “advancement to the upper class, [accomplished] through, acquiring consumer goods [or] cross-class romance (Bleach 36).
If You Leave
Empowerment through cross-class romance is reproduced in the final scenes of Pretty in Pink to the song “If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD). Written specifically for Pretty in Pink, the song was OMD’s highest chart hit and captured “hyper-romantic teen angst with a sweet melody out of early ‘60s pop” (Wener). It might have evoked nostalgia of an earlier time, but “no prom from 1986 to 1994 was worth attending if it didn’t feature [OMD’s] ‘If You Leave’” (Martens).
A conventional part of the movie – “an image of Blane and Andie kissing in front of car lights [that] is automatically romantic in the finest MTV style” leaves a lasting impression (Maslin, “Film: John Hughes’s”). The sound enhanced a mundane sight as the audience would be “left unmoved” when Andy and Blane kiss outside the prom if not for OMD’s “stately, heartstring-plucking ‘If You Leave’ playing” (Lewis; Williams 137).
Pretty in Pink’s controversial ending was the result of a lack of chemistry between actors Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer and a poor reception from the audience when the movie was tested (Pretty in Pink). In the original ending, Duckie escorts Ringwald into the prom where they “dance in a swirl of pink,” showing that their “solidarity as friends would be the most important thing in their lives and [they were] going to stick together [with pride] despite all the rifts,” according to Cryer. However, due to the critical reception and majority of the audience expressing that they wanted her to “have the cute boy,” Hughes re-wrote the script so that Blane came alone to the prom, told his elitist friend Steph off, made peace with Duckie, told Andie he loves her, and ultimately ends up together with her (Pretty in Pink). Producers thought it was a sell-out ruining the integrity of the film, but decided to give the audience what they wanted. As Director Howard Deutch put it, “forget the politics, when a girl wants the cute guy, she’s gotta get the cute guy” (Pretty in Pink). “If you’re going to do a story [about] love across the divide of class it kind of has to work otherwise you’re saying something really wrong,” said Cryer some years later (Pretty in Pink).
Feminism is rearticulated in that keeping with the spirit of the 1980s, the woman – a classic “girl from the other side of the tracks wanting to pull herself up,” is able to “have it all,” getting who she wants in the affluent and handsome Blane (Maslin, “Film: John Hughes’s;” Pretty in Pink). Andie redefines post-feminism with her “desire to overcome class barriers and her individual efforts at acquiring a wealthy partner” (Bleach 41). This is demonstrated in an earlier scene where “If You Leave” is played on Andie’s car radio as she speaks about how the wealthy elite are likely unappreciative of the fruits of their wealth (Bleach 41; Pretty in Pink). “I bet the people that live [in that expensive house] don’t think it’s half as pretty as I do,” Andie tells Duckie (Pretty in Pink). In this way, the ending sells the dream that “if you’re poor you can aspire to be rich,” but under the premise of love as the means to validation and bridging the social divide (Cocker; Vincent).
This concept is extended to Duckie who the producers sought to protect in the audience’s interest, thereby having an attractive girl gesture interest in him (Cocker; Pretty in Pink). “We felt that Duckie had to get something, so we put in this beautiful woman,” one producer noted suggesting that character was Duckie’s consolation prize for his selfless “act of noble renunciation” (Pretty in Pink; Vincent). Pretty in Pink’s final scene alludes to a utopian teen fantasy as Duckie urges Andie to pursue Blane, then gets “jumped by another girl…before OMD’s ‘If You Leave’ even ends (Sheffield).
As the credits roll in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the audience watches Edward Rooney, Dean of Students, painfully trudging along after failing to catch arch-nemesis Ferris to the incessant tune of “Oh Yeah” (Brammer). Obsessively vindictive Rooney suffers the ultimate humiliation when he reluctantly rides the school bus, having to read graffiti that mocks him and deal with children who pester him (Cocker; Leitch). “Oh Yeah” plays earlier in the picture when Ferris makes Cameron take his father’s limited edition 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California. The two scenes are meant to contrast one another because in “Hughes’ world, smart and savvy teens are contrasted with self-involved [and/or] hopelessly uncool authority figures” who are out to get them (Brammer).
In the Ferrari scene, Cameron illustrates this by telling Ferris that his father “loves this car more than life itself” and knows the mileage because he has never trusted him (Cocker). Ferris’ line – “a man with priorities so out of whack does not deserve such a fine automobile” speaks to the promotion of capitalistic consumption with the vehicle serving as a symbol of youthful rebellion and independence (Cocker; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Aside from the traditional subscription of cars as a “masculine” interest, gender is performed in this scene in the sense that Matthew Broderick (Ferris) plays this as “if it were his first date [because] the car really had become a woman to him,” according to Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Broderick touches the car as he circles it and kisses his hand saying how beautiful in French – the language of romance (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Ferris performs traditional gender roles as his lust for life translates into a lust of the car that has, in his mind, become a woman whom he must have (Brammer; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).
Weird Science’s freeze frame at its conclusion is entirely on the winking Lisa, the perfect woman (sex object) Gary and Wyatt had to have so badly that the two geeks created her from a computer (Maslin, “Film: ‘Weird Science’”). The physical specifications of said woman are derived mostly from magazines, demonstrating how beauty is constructed and circulated throughout popular culture (Maslin, “Film: ‘Weird Science’”). When this fantasy female sex object arrives, she is a flirtatious, gorgeous mother figure who instigates sexual scenarios, cleans, cooks, and dresses for them. Lisa provides these boys with the currency – sports, cars, and pretty young girlfriends, to overcome their social inadequacies, which fosters their confidence and allows them to be accepted by their peers (Cocker; Maslin, “Film: ‘Weird Science’”). Weird Science re-articulates a woman’s power to be used exclusively in the interest of men and further emphasizes how consumerism improves socio-economic class (Weird Science). The underlying notion is that the perfect woman every adolescent male lusts after is a satisfying, self-sacrificing, and trouble-making, “maternal seductive female” who disappears after they find girlfriends (Cocker). Oingo Boingo’s song begins “She’s alive! She’s alive!” as the shot of Lisa lingers, reinforcing that this self-sacrificing “maternal seductive female” is real and sought after by all adolescent boys who drop to the ground in astonishment and thus should be aspired to by all heterosexual adolescent girls (Weird Science). In the teen world where there is hardly a greater force, the socializing power of popular music is prominently accentuated within this scene (Williams 23).
The power of John Hughes’ films lies at the heart of its soundtracks, which have left a stamp on generations of youth because of the way the songs complement and enhance a scene, reclaiming a musical space. Hughes shaped youth culture by constructing scenes with sounds that pushed the consideration of racism, sexism, and homophobia into the background, rendering race and sexual acts invisible in a predominantly white, heterosexual context. Montage and final scenes in Hughes’ films strike a particular resonance by re-inscribing traditional gender roles and notions of what constitutes masculinity and femininity under a “liberated” guise of transcendence and youth rebellion. Hughes’ films circulate a post-feminist discourse that operates via rock as an illusory mode of transgression, which maintains conservative and capitalistic ideals marked by the Reagan Era, emphasizing individualism and consumerism.
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Brammer, Rebekah. “Left of Centre – Teen Life, Love, and Pain in the Films of John Hughes.” Screen Education 56 (2009): 22-28. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
Chion, Michel. Audio-Vision. New York: Columbia U. Press, 1994. Book.
Cocker, Adam. “With Reference to the Teen Movie Genre, is John Hughes a Present Day Auteur whose Particular Identity has Influenced his Teen Cycle of Films and how has he Affected the Teen Genre as a Whole?” RiverBlue. Web. 15 Nov. 2011.
Craig, Wilson. “John Hughes and the Brat Pack, revisited.” USA Today n.d.: Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara. Paramount Pictures, 1986. DVD
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Grossberg, Lawrence. “The Media Economy of Rock Culture: Cinema, Postmodernity, and Authenticity.” Sound and Vision: The Music Video Reader. Frith, Simon, Andrew Goodwin, and Lawrence Grossberg. London: Routledge, 1993. 185-209. Print.
Leitch, Thomas M. “The World According To Teenpix.” Literature Film Quarterly 20.1 (1992): 43. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.
Lewis, Luke. “Why John Hughes’ Movies Would Have Been Nothing Without Their Soundtracks.” MNE.com. NME Magazine, 8 July 2009. Web. 21 Nov. 2011.
Martens, Todd. “John Hughes: The soundtrack to a generation.” The L.A. Times Music Blog, 6 Aug. 2009. Web. 15 Nov. 2011.
Maslin, Janet. “Film: John Hughes’s ‘Pretty in Pink.’” New York Times 28 Feb. 1986: 8. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
Maslin, Janet. “Film: ‘Some Kind of Wonderful.’” New York Times 27 Feb. 1987: 17. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
Maslin, Janet. “Film: ‘Weird Science,’ Youth Fantasy.” New York Times 2 Aug. 1985: 8. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Nov. 2011
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Pretty in Pink. Dir. Howard Deutch. Perf. Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer, Andrew McCarthy. Paramount, 1986. DVD.
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The Breakfast Club. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson. Universal, 1985. DVD.
Vincent, Canby. “Film View; Putting Teen-Angers Under The Lens.” New York Times 16 Mar. 1986: 19. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.
Weird Science. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Kelly LeBrock. Universal, 1985. DVD.
Wener, Ben. “Remembering John Hughes impact on pop.” Sound Check. The Orange County Register, 7 Aug. 2009.Web. 6 Dec. 2011.
Williams, Kevin. Why I [Still] Want My MTV. Cresskill: Hampton Press, 2003. Book.
[i] In this context, post-feminism will correspond to the combined definitions of feminist scholars Rosalind Gill and Angela McRobbie as an “entanglement of feminist and anti-feminist ideas” through an “active process by which feminist gains of the 1970s and 1980s come to be undermined” (Bleach 27; Gill 269).