John Hughes: Reaching New Levels of Achievement in Hollywood

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John Hughes: Reaching New Levels of Achievement in Hollywood David Bordwell (2006) firmly believes that when faced with the challenge of creating, people ask themselves how they can raise the premises to new levels of achievement, or revive a disreputable genre. He argues that people challenge themselves with the question ‘How can I make casual connections more felicitous, twists more unexpected, character psychology more involving, excitement more intense, motifs more tightly woven? How can I display my own virtuosity?” Following this quote and my own research, I’ve come to believe that John Hughes is a very significant example of a filmmaker to reach a whole new level of achievement in Hollywood. As the director and writer of several well-known teen movies such as Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), from the mid-1980s Hughes has been respected as one of the more influential figures of Hollywood for redefining and leaving a long-lasting impression on movies with a teen demographic. Through deeply focusing on new themes and motifs such as social hierarchy, he undeniably changed the teen movie genre forever by creating sympathy and understanding for adolescent characters. In the 1980s, teenager’s attitudes were changing, and many theorists believe music television was to blame. Shary (2005) states that with celebrity appearances, commercials, and a brand-new, fast-paced style, MTV became “the court where youth culture was told what was cool”. He also believes that the political changes in America also heavily influenced teenagers perspectives, especially after the “carefree attitudes” of Carter’s presidency turned into the “peremptory dictates of Regan’s decade”. He states that: “The new Republican ethos may have won over voters, but at the same time its naïve ‘just say no’ approach to serious adolescent choices gave youth a renewed sense of irritation for adult authority.” To express their views on America’s politics, the youth became eager to experiment with sex and drugs, and Hollywood felt the effect of the youth’s impact and took note. At this time period, Hollywood was experiencing a transition of sorts, between what was labelled as the Hollywood Renaissance (Schatz,1993), into a more contemporary style of cinema which theorist Geoff King (2002) labelled as ‘New Hollywood Version 2’. To understand the breakthrough of John Hughes’ movies, we must understand that before his directorial debut of Sixteen Candles, films of the 1980s were not sympathetic to teens, and the majority of said films came in the form of slasher movies, or sex-comedies, where audiences would watch teenagers be embarrassed and hurt in various different forms. In this period of transition, these movies would reap in profits, but did not focus on character psychology or emphasise performance the way earlier examples did. In this transition period, Hughes’ managed, in some form, to stay true to the earlier, character-based films, but still managed to produce a successful profit, without any high-scale production that would turn his films into the newer, blockbuster style pictures. He often worked on more than one movie at once, and released them very close together, in a way that provided more money for the studios, as his reputation as a director became more well-known and his movies became more successful. It’s important to note also, that his films were released at a time where VCR and home videos were becoming more and more popular, which meant that young adults could watch his films over and over at home, and create a personal relationship with the characters. As a director, Hughes knew exactly what he wanted; to show teenagers as important, intelligent, and not the sex-crazed and shallow adolescents that earlier movies portrayed them to be. Gora (2010) proposes that: “What would set Hughes apart, in an age when other filmmakers were quick to portray teens as vapid, horny, pimpled caricatures,...
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