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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Goodbye, John

Sloane: The city looks so peaceful from up here.

Anything is peaceful from one thousand, three hundred and fifty-three feet.

Cameron: I think I see my dad.
One of the pleasures of growing up with a film is that as you mature, your appreciation for it can also mature. You see new things, appreciate new moments, connect to it emotionally in a different way. For me, nothing encapsulates that experience more than Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I can distinctly remember a time when I found Ferris' synthesizer, the one that emits puking sounds, to be hilarious. A little later I found myself enthralled by the fantasy of Ferris' wild adventure during his day off from school.

But it wasn't until my adulthood that I realized that it wasn't only Ferris who really made me love the film. It was Cameron Frye.

If you have no idea who I'm talking about, you probably haven't seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off. (And shame on you! Dude, it's on TV all the time!) Cameron is Ferris' best friend, and as Ferris so eloquently describes him, he's a little uptight: "Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you'd have a diamond."

The heart of Cameron's problem isn't particularly novel - his absent parents are cold and distant, and his father seems to care more about his car than he does about his son - but instead of the film exploiting his anxiety purely for chuckles, it fleshes him out and treats him with compassion. The film allows Cameron to flip out, break down, and eventually break out. And in the end, it's not Ferris who makes the hero's journey, it's Cameron.

This wasn't uncommon in the films of John Hughes, the writer and director who passed away yesterday at the age of 59. Hughes' films were littered with characters that were just a little bit more than their archetypes. A mom who just wanted to get home to her son (Home Alone), the Geek who will patiently listen to your problems and then still ask to borrow your panties (Sixteen Candles), the tomboy who so desperately wants to be seen as more than a best friend (Some Kind of Wonderful). I could go on. Sure, there were cardboard cut-outs too (Long Duk Dong comes to mind) but for the most part, there were fully-fleshed jump off the page characters, and John always gave them their moment.

In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Cameron stands in an art museum in front of a pointillist painting by George Seurat, and as he stares at the image of a little girl, the camera cuts back and forth, jumping closer and closer to each shot. As we get closer to his eyes, it seems as if Cameron is having an existential crisis. As if he is facing the realization that we are all just little dots.

In an industry where anything that seems superfluous ends up on the cutting room floor, it is to Hughes' credit that his film allows for the moment, one that continues to move me to this day. That is the gift of John Hughes.

"I gotta take a stand. I'm bullshit. I gotta take a stand against him. I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I'm going to take a stand. I'm going to defend it. Right or wrong, I'm going to defend it."

Who do you love? Who do you love? You love a car!"


Sven said...

Beautiful. Well said.

Ashley said...

Beautiful post, Steph!

Anonymous said...

agreed. well said. oh, my teenage heart.

eloise said...

I echo the sentiments above... wonderful piece.