R.I.P. John Hughes, Director of Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club + Movie Music Innovator

Aug 6, 2009 at 4:51 pm
Talk about shocking news: John Hughes -- the movie director and screenwriter famous for his '80s teen movies -- died this morning of a heart attack. He was 59.

Hughes' films -- especially the holy trinity of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink -- were innovative in the way they used music as plot progressors. Who could forget Ferris Bueller twisting to the Beatles after taking over a parade in downtown Chicago? Or the end of Candles, when (DREAMY. Ahem.) Jake Ryan and Samantha (played by Molly Ringwald) share a sweet, romantic kiss as the Thompson Twins' "If You Were Here" plays. Or that ridiculous dance the Breakfast Club kids do as they trash the library and bust out of detention. (And let's not forget that Pink and Weird Science took their names from songs by the Psychedelic Furs and Oingo Boingo, respectively.)

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off," featuring the Beatles

Their attention to detail also added realism: In Candles, Samantha had the Rave-Ups (a new-wave band Ringwald liked in real life) scrawled on a binder she carried around, and posters of then-popular bands on her bedroom walls. Pink had many scenes centered around a funky independent record store where Andie (again played by Ringwald) worked with zany Iona (Annie Potts), the type of establishment you'd kill to browse in for hours.

New Order's "Shellshock" in Pretty in Pink
And then there were the soundtrack albums. Pretty in Pink was a staple tape in the '80s for me (New Order! INXS!), while Breakfast Club finally made the Simple Minds U.S. megastars, thanks to "Don't You Forget About Me. Even lesser-known collections were rather cool: She's Having a Baby featured Dave Wakeling (English Beat) doing the title track, as well as Kirsty MacColl (covering the Smiths!), XTC, Love and Rockets and Gene Loves Jezebel.
The Breakfast Club kids bust a move
In a few cases, the music even spawned cults of its own, separate from the films. Sixteen Candles was a rarity; it was only ever available on LP and cassette and (even worse) in a truncated, EP form. (This awe-inspiring webpage details every song in different versions of the movie; I'm partial to the use of Altered Images' "Happy Birthday" and Nick Heyward's "Whistle Down the Wind.") Same with Ferris Bueller's Day Off, whose soundtrack also never saw a commercial release -- although many websites collected unauthorized collections of the tunes for download

 End of Sixteen Candles, starring the Thompson Twins' fantastic "If You Were Here" (Oops. In Spanish. But you get the idea.)

Today, it's hard to imagine any director having such an enduring influence on pop culture -- and, in fact, creating pop culture touchstones with substance and smarts. (Phenomena like Twilight and Harry Potter had pre-determined fanbases.) And that's why we'll miss John Hughes.


The March Violets, "Turn to the Sky," from Some Kind of Wonderful (also in Spanish)