Thursday, August 6, 2009

EXTRA: John Hughes’ films gave us different vision of what Chicago is about

There are a lot of films that like to think they’re about Chicago, even though about the only thing they do for the city is use the downtown skyline as a backdrop and maybe throw in a reference to the Chicago Cubs (usually, they lose).

But then there were the films of director John Hughes, a string of which were made during the 1980s and gave us a unique view of contemporary teenage life. Some would claim Hughes had his finger on the pulse of teen life in the ‘80s.

I DON’T KNOW if I’d go that far.

“The Breakfast Club” was sort of interesting, but I always thought “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was too over the top to be taken seriously. And as for “Pretty in Pink,” it was too much Molly Ringwald for my taste.

But what those films have in common for me is that they were supposedly set in communities near Chicago. They were filmed up on the North Shore, along with bits shot in the city proper.

I’m not going to claim that the North Shore suburban lifestyle of that era was quintessential of all Chicagoans. But it was nice to see something different than another shot of the building then known as the Sears Tower.

HOW MANY FILMS about high school weekend detention manage to get an entire high school to shoot in? And how many give us a lasting image of a now-defunct school building (the old New Trier West High School)?

Now some people will claim the biggest Hughes film of this Chicago mentality was “Home Alone,” which was supposedly set in one of those North Shore towns and used the proximity to O’Hare International Airport as part of its story line.

That may well be the biggest grossing film (although the “Vacation” films that featured the Griswolds as a Chicago-area family also did rather well financially).

But when it comes to my own film-watching tastes, there are two Hughes films that I think are worth constant watching. And what the two have in common is the strong presence of comedic actor John Candy.

“PLANES, TRAINS AND Automobiles” was the story of a tacky sales rep helping a business executive portrayed by Steve Martin trying to get from St. Louis to Chicago after his rental car turns up missing.

For all the times I have driven up and down Interstate 55 in my lifetime, I have never had an off-the-wall adventure such as the one shown in this film.

Then, there was “Uncle Buck,” which I get a kick out of even though Candy played an obnoxious, gambling, Cubs jersey wearing (Ernie Banks’ number 14, if I remember correctly) bum who was entrusted to watch his nieces and nephew at their North Shore home. The sight of Candy's character using the microwave to try to do the laundry always makes me laugh.

For those two cinematic moments, I will say that the passing of Hughes (which happened Thursday in New York) is worth not a moment of silence, but a series of laughs.


Pop a DVD (or an old VHS cassette if you still have them) of either “Uncle Buck” or “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” into your player and allow yourself to be entertained by Hughes’ directorial skill.


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