R.I.P. John Hughes and I'm sorry...

On September 19 and 20th, 2010 the Film Society of Lincoln Center will hold a two-day celebration of the life and movies of the late director/writer John Hughes with screenings of his movies “Home Alone,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.” There will also be  a 25th-anniversary screening of “The Breakfast Club,” followed by a Q&A with the cast members Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy in conversation with the director Kevin Smith. Sounds fun, and I’d really like to attend, but I feel guilty. As it’s been a year since his death I think it’s time I came clean… I killed John Hughes. Well, sort of.

It happened like this, just a few weeks before Mr. Hughes’s death (on August 6, 2009), for no reason at all, I had been thinking about him and wondering whatever had become of him. I mean, his movies had been enormously popular in the early 1980’s, shaped an entire generation, then he hit a sort of career slide at the end of the decade, and seemingly disappeared entirely from the scene after the release of his  film “Curly Sue” in 1991. After thinking of him for a bit I then got an idea for a script that would be in his mold, a tribute. It was a sort-of updating of “The Breakfast Club” (but not really) using teachers instead of students in the “detention” situation. Around this same time, while I was mulling and shaping the story, I read in the paper that Mr. Hughes suddenly dropped dead of heart failure while walking the blistering hot streets of Manhattan (and not very far from where I was staying either). The native of Los Angeles had been in NYC visiting his family.

It was an odd coincidence for sure, and I felt a bit weirded-out about it, but too be honest I wasn’t too surprised. This sort of thing has happened to me all of my life: I suddenly think of some person or thing – something that’s offbeat or obscure – and not long afterward it/they are in the news (you can thank me now for the coming resurgence in cassette tapes). They don’t always died of a heart attack but they are suddenly back in the mainstream dialogue. I call it being hooked into the zeitgeist, and I’m by no means the only person that seems to have this ability. The zeitgeist, co-incidence, the collective unconscious, or just weirdness – call it whatever you want to call it – the point is that one day, out of the clear blue sky, John Hughes pops into my head for no good reason and a few weeks later he’s dead on a Manhattan sidewalk.

To add to the oddness, the “teacher detention” aspect to the story I was developing was based a real (and sort of barbaric) practice that’s been going on in the NYC school system for decades. Trouble teachers, who can’t be fired due to the teacher unions, are sent to places they called “Rubber Rooms” where they sit all day and do absolutely nothing ( i.e. detention, i.e. the same situation  the teens faced in “The Breakfast Club”). As I said, Rubber Rooms had been around for decades, and were not at all in the news, but soon after I thought about them, researched them and decided to use the Rubber Rooms as the central plot of my sort-of “Breakfast Club” update – NYC abolished them.

You’re welcome teachers. And I’m really sorry John.

PS I guess the moral of all this is, if I ever say “I’ve been thinking of you” – run like hell.

(c) 2010 Jim Yoakum

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