Most of us have a favorite cult film that has stood the test of time: The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Big Lebowski, This is Spinal Tap and more; however, for coming-of-age teen films, John Hughes was The Master.
Hughes’ big break came while working for the American humor magazine National Lampoon, where he developed the screenplay for the 1983 film “National Lampoon's Vacation”. Within a year of writing the script, Hughes made his directorial debut (he also wrote the screenplay) in Sixteen Candles (1984), opening the flood-gates for the Teen Film genre, such as Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. Hughes’ eclectic style moved him beyond Teen films, and he wrote and directed such classics as Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Uncle Buck and the focus of our blog today: Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
“What a director should be doing is making it appear as though there was no script.”
“I happen to go for the simplest, most ordinary things. The extraordinary doesn’t interest me. I’m interested in the person you don’t expect to have a story.”
“Many filmmakers portray teenagers as immoral and ignorant … I listen to kids. I respect them. Some of them are as bright as any of the adults I’ve met.”
(John Hughes, Director, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
In the style of Hitchcock’s film cameos, John Hughes added his own personal touch to his films, including Ferris Bueller‘s Day Off. The red #9 Detroit hockey jersey worn throughout the film by Ferris’ best friend, Cameron Frye, pays homage to Red Wings player Gordie Howe, of whom Hughes was a big fan. Eagle-eyed viewers would have also noticed many of the vehicles used in the film had subliminal license plate messages relating to other John Hughes movies; for example, sister Jeanie’s Pontiac Fiero displayed TBC for The Breakfast Club, Ferris’ Dad’s Audi 5000 had license plate MMOM for Mr. Mom.
The film really pays homage to Chicago and, not surprisingly, the trio of Ferris, Cameron and Sloane visit some of the City’s most prominent sights. While looking down at the City from the top of the Sears Tower (now renamed Willis Tower), Ferris makes a point of giving the exact height of the structure; perhaps Hughes is reminding the viewer that this was the tallest building in the world (at the time). No day off in Chicago would be complete without a trip to Wrigley Field to catch a ball game. The baseball scene is typical of Hughes’ direction, where he gives the actors the freedom to improvise. Alan Ruck, who plays Cameron Frye, contributes this line from a childhood friend: “Batter, batter, batter. Swing batter”. As a high school teen, John Hughes found refuge among Picasso, Matisse and other works of art at The Art Institute of Chicago. In the film, we see Ferris and his best friend, Cameron, accompanied by Ferris’ girlfriend, Sloane Peterson, stop in for a museum visit. Hughes takes this opportunity to reveal his special place and, although the scenes are short, the threesome goes through a gamut of emotions; this is not only a hallmark of Hughes’ direction, but also of his writing.
Here are some of my favorite lines from the movie:
“Bueller … Bueller … Bueller … Bueller.”
“What are you interested in?” “Nothing.”
“The question isn’t: What are we going to do? The question is: What aren’t we going to do?”
“How could I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?”
“You’re not dying. You just can’t think of anything good to do.”
“This is the part where Cameron goes berserk.”
“If I am gonna get busted, it’s not gonna be by a guy like that.”
“Cameron is so uptight, if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you’d have a diamond.”
“You’re still here. It’s over. Go home.” (Said by Ferris Bueller, after the movie credits roll)
Music played an important part in all of John Hughes’ films and, in particular, 80’s bands. Simple Minds, Depeche Mode and Dream Academy were standard fare, but Hughes also used really obscure bands like the Swiss duo, Yello, whose song “Oh Yeah” shot to prominence because of the movie and was subsequently used by other film directors. I also like Beat City by The Flowerpot Men.
Many of John Hughes’ films were shot in Illinois. A repeat location was the abandoned New Trier High School where not only scenes from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off were shot, but also Uncle Buck, Sixteen Candles and the interior for Home Alone.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is timeless because it focuses on something everyone wants to do or has done at one time or another, it is simple, not mired in quickly-outdated props and accessories, and it uses the main character to draw in the audience by talking directly to the camera at key moments. It’s about flaunting boundaries, friendship, freedom and, for a whole day, not giving a _uck. Who can argue with that? Mr. Hughes, thank you for reminding us that we must all love life to the fullest whenever possible.
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