Friday, August 7, 2009

Permanent Vacation

John Hughes died while strolling through Manhattan. Not to seem insensitive, but that's a great way to go -- at least to diehard New Yorkers like me. I'll be in the city in a couple of weeks, so if I croak while cruising Central Park or Ave. C (where the old East Village hangs on by a black-polished nail), know that I probably went with a smile on my face. Who wants to die in Michigan?

I never really liked Hughes' films, though several friends in the biz did. While he was capable of occasional cute lines, a feature from his ad days, I thought Hughes' movies -- "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" -- symbolized the death of whatever smart comedy Hollywood could muster. Perfect pap for the Reagan '80s. His takes on suburbia were toothless and tame, which is why most of them raked in so much serious green. Give me Todd Solondz's "Welcome To The Dollhouse," "Happiness" or the "Nonfiction" part of "Storytelling." Those films cut much closer to the suburbia I experienced than did the puffy clouds painted by Hughes. Still, I would've loved living next door to Molly Ringwald. Oh, the exquisite pain of her inevitable rejection!

Before he struck Hollywood gold, Hughes worked for a time at National Lampoon. This was during P.J. O'Rourke's editorial reign, when the mag's guns were aimed at women, people of color, and queers. Hughes was one-third of the Pants Down Republicans (alongside O'Rourke and Denis Boyles), white guys who rejected liberalism in favor of the emerging GOP consensus, only theirs allowed drugs, drinking, loud music, and sexual promiscuity. But to me, the best thing Hughes produced for the Lampoon was "Vacation '58," which inspired the Chevy Chase film series. The original piece was much darker than the films, of course. And any story that begins, "If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever!" is worth a read. See if you agree.

Hughes wrote the "Vacation" screenplay as well. It's some of his best work, bringing a bit of the original's darkness to the screen. Here's a brief taste, with Chevy nailing the mood.