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The Book I Read: Jaime Clarke’s Don’t You Forget About Me

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 1, 2007

Tell me your droubles and doubts
Giving me everything, inside and out

I sort of had to buy this book–advertized as “Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes”–when I saw that it existed. Not that I’m the biggest John Hughes fan, though I’ll of course watch The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and especially Ferris Bueller’s Day Off whenever they’re on TV. But it was just sort of fascinating to me that someone deemed an unabashadly populist film figure like John Hughes as worthy of an entire book–it’d be like finding a book on the singles catalogue of Duran Duran, or an episode-by-episode guide to Saved By the Bell. Seemed like obligatory reading to me.

And it’s pretty interesting stuff. Set up by author in alphabetical order (meaning that the only really famous author of the bunch, Moon Unit Zappa, is wisely given the final essay), Don’t You Forget About Me contains 20 essays detailing the way the films John Hughes wrote, produced and/or directed in the 1980s (sorry Curly Sue fans, didn’t see it mentioned once) reflected, shaped, or utterly transformed the authors’ lives. Every essay is presented very much in the first person, and none of the essays contain much in the ways of scene-by-scene breakdowns or cinematography and editing analyses–the book is as much a tribute to obsessive, youthful fandom (and really just youth in general–first loves, teen angst, sexuality, rebellion, the whole bit) as it is to Hughes himself.

And almost as much, it’s a tribute to Hughes’ muse, Brat Pack Queen Molly Ringwald. The DYFAM writers alternately felt they were exactly like Molly Ringwald, prayed they could be more like Molly Ringwald, wished they could be less like Molly Ringwald, wanted to find a girl like Molly Ringwald, hated Molly Ringwald for not choosing Duckie, or just wished life could be more like a Molly Ringwald movie. Of course, it’s not really Molly Ringwald, it’s Samantha Baker, Claire Standish and Andie Walsh that these writers were so obsessed with, but that’s a point that barely comes up over the course of Don’t You Forget About Me–these movies were such an integral part of these writers’ lives that their fictionality is practically irrelevant.

But that’s not to say Ringwald is the only recepient of the odes in DYFAM. Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller gets a couple (and Alan Ruck’s Cameron Frye deservedly gets at least one as well), and Ally Sheedy’s Allison Reynolds from The Breakfast Club, Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and Ilan Mitchell-Smith’s Wyatt from Weird Science, Andrew McCarthy’s Blaine from Pretty in Pink (unsurprisingly, one of the more bitter essays), Michael Schoeffling’s Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles (more an ultimate 80s one-hit wonder than Nena or Taco) and even Mary Stuart Masterson’s Watts from Some Kind of Wonderful all get their dues as well. It’s the ultimate tribute to Hughes’ writing and directing that even aside from Ringwald’s three-year golden touch, he still helped craft such a wide array of unforgettable, paradigm-creating characters.

It sort of puts the current state of youth cinema into perspective. The closest thing to a Brat Pack of today might be the Frat Pack of Anchorman, Old School, Wedding Crashers and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and while those movies are probably much funnier, it’s hard to imagine anyone writing an essay on the life-changing characters of John and Jeremy, or how some girl grew up wanting to marry Will Ferrell, or anything like that. And the teen movies today that are getting made–sure, there are still some great ones, but do they have that feeling of a unified culture, of a we’re-all-in-this-together, us against them (teens vs. adults) mentality, or of a branching off point for music, fashion and all other forms of popular culture? It’s telling that a movie like Napoleon Dynamite would choose just to recycle 80s hits for its supposedly contemporary soundtrack–there really just aren’t any OMDs or Thompson Twins around to soundtrack that emotional climax scene anymore.
It’s obvious from this book that no one has forgotten about John Hughes. Too bad we didn’t learn more from him while he was around, though.

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