Mar 082010

The Oscars are behind us, the awards season is for all intents and purposes over, and Hollywood can once again return to the business of making movies. Like all in the biz, I watched last night’s telecast intently; overall, I found it a relatively entertaining ceremony.

One of my favorite segments of the annual Academy Awards broadcast is the “In Memoriam” recognition of those notable members of the Hollywood community who passed away over the previous year. Last night was no exception, but what really stood out was the separate special tribute to director John Hughes. His sudden death was far more upsetting, far more meaningful to me than Michael Jackson’s was or ever could be. It still is stunning, all these months later.

Watching the Hughes tribute, I was left with the question: has any other director ever been the voice of a generation in the same manner and to the same extent that John Hughes was to the children of the 1980s?

I would venture to say not.

Although we frequently speak of musicians being the voice of a generation, that terminology is seldom directed to filmmakers in the same manner. Yet if you were in high school when Hughes’s films were released, his movies spoke to the reality of your circumstances in a way that no others did. If you were a few years younger, those same John Hughes movies were the blueprint of your high school years was to come.

As I’m sure many of you remember, this blog tribute became somewhat of a viral sensation right after Hughes died. The post probably had more meaning for me than most readers because I actually knew the specific world that the writer, Alison Byrnes Fields, wrote about, beyond the general universe of high school angst. The line that caught me for a loop was:

And he consoled me when I complained that Mrs. Garstka didn’t appreciate my writing.

I attended Xavier High School, an all-boys Catholic school, in Middletown, Connecticut. Down the street was our sister school, the all-girls Mercy High, where my younger sister would later go to school. We had a Mr. Garstka teaching at Xavier, and I seemed to recall that a Mrs. Garstka worked at Mercy. A couple of Google searches and some cross-referencing later and I was able to connect the dots: Alison Byrnes Fields had attended Mercy, albeit a few years before I went to Xavier.

No two people’s experience are ever the same, of course, but the climates of Mercy and Xavier were pretty much the same, so even separated somewhat in time there was probably a lot with which we could relate. Catholic high school in small-town Connecticut is Catholic high school in small-town Connecticut, after all, especially when the two schools in question are as interconnected as ours were.

But the beauty of John Hughes’s work was that it didn’t matter if you went to the same school as somebody else or the most radically different; the films were still relevant. Every teenager of the 80s and early 90s could relate to his movies in a deeply personal manner. The letter written by the students in The Breakfast Club succinctly summed up Hughes’s own movies perfectly; it didn’t matter if you were the jock, the beauty queen, or the outcast, the trials and tribulations of the American high school experience were, at the core, the same.

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