ELUSIVE from the prying minds of critics and cinephiles, the legacy of John Hughes lives on with little in the way of his personal opinions. For a man who wrote past the point of obsession, it is a bitter pill to swallow – but from what the late filmmaker gave us in rare interviews, we get a glimpse into his thoughts on creating some of the most real teenagers ever committed to cinema.
As The Breakfast Club celebrates its 30th birthday, its relevance is still rendered strong. While dated in the time capsule that is the 1980s, themes of teenage repression and acceptance are more important than ever. Here’s a look at Hughes’ views and whether or not they stand justified in 2015.
For Premiere in December 1999, Sean M Smith begins his article Teen Days That Shook The World with this quote:
“KIDS WON’T SIT THROUGH IT”, DIRECTOR JOHN Hughes recalls studio executives telling him about his detention-as-group-therapy drama, The Breakfast Club. “There’s no action, no party, no nudity.”
Hughes would go on to express that sexual content was not the centrepiece of the film because it was about self-discovery through personality. The Breakfast Club is a quintessential example of this in amongst all the sex-fuelled teen films from the 1980s to now. We get glimpses of it with the Bender/Claire scene under the table, a comical yet realistic take on raging teen hormones. Getting serious about teenage life had never been done in the way Hughes presented – social status, relationships with parents and teachers, or wider fears about life. And there are so many teenagers still out there today with bigger problems than where the next party or Mr/Ms Right Now is.
“The scene is a little embarrassing because it was the only thing that was ‘of the moment.’ Michael was doing a Flashdance parody. Emilio was doing Footloose. Today, I wouldn’t have Emilio scream and break the glass. It was an extraordinarily bad idea.”
An honest quote about what is arguably the film’s most bizarre scene. The group smoke up a storm and in their pot haze go for a bit of a dance, particularly affecting Emilio Estevez’s Andrew where he screams to let out built-up energy. For those watching it now it comes across as a cheesy way to express the group’s collective frustration, unrealistic and rather silly. But as it doesn’t serve to reduce the effect of the story even 30 years on, it can be laughed off and appreciated as a lapse in judgement by all involved.
“I didn’t have any fondness for Claire as I wrote that character. It’s fairly difficult to find sympathy for a character that in high school would basically have poked me in the forehead and said, ‘Get lost!’”
If we look at Claire’s character now a lot of people would agree she’s not terribly likeable even though she has problems as much as the next person. In so many ways Claire is a representation of a group of people in this world many love to hate – the silver spooners who don’t have to work for anything in life. Bender recognises this and revolts, while Andrew holds back because of his own relation to that social status. Claire might claim to hate the stigma it brings her, but she’ll still embrace it by wanting to be the centre of attention. In a way, she is a spooky precursor to the reality TV celebrities of this world who come from the same boat.
In 1985 during an AFI interview and Q&A session, Hughes was asked about what certain scenes represented:
“What critics don’t look at is that… I did this for an audience, and I took that audience’s sensibilities, and a lot of adults think, ‘I wonder what they did in the closet’ – whereas I’m yet to run across a kid who suspects anything of the closet. You know they understand the gesture of the kiss at the end is reconciliation, that’s all, and acceptance.”
The social divide between Bender and Claire is one of extremes, their relationship never to find its way in any capacity. But for the small time they have together they cover a lot of emotional ground. Hughes’ thoughts here come back to the idea sex scenes were unnecessary, and while that is very much true surely a lot of people would be curious. Adults, yes, but even teenagers watching now, wondering if there was anything more to it. A kiss as a gesture of acceptance is a very adult thing to achieve – to teenagers, a kiss is hooking up. Hughes believed in the growth of his characters, but to some the kiss would represent what could come just as much as his intended perception.
Corey Brunish interviewed Hughes for Eye On The Movies in 1985, where the director touched on central problems in The Breakfast Club:
“Those kids are concerned about their parents, they wouldn’t talk like that about their parents if they didn’t have concern for them… they’re saying please, listen.”
This couldn’t be more true then and now. Hughes had an uncanny understanding about what catalyst triggered many teenage issues, and parents in the 1980s were just as much a concern as they were in decades gone. Again, the social divide meant issues concerning parents were varied – but only on the surface. The desire to be appreciated, to be loved and accepted, was what everyone in the gang really wanted. Now, that resonates just as strongly as children are subject to relentless promotion and marketing on everything from body image to fashion trends.
“People either like it or dislike it strongly.”
Hughes knew his films would hit a nerve with adults who didn’t understand his way of thought, grappling with the concept that teenagers could be true protagonists in a story of self-discovery. In this interview it was noted Brunish had it in his top 10 films and another critic the worst 10. But the lack of action or sex, in hindsight, would be a precursor to many films of today where a powerful script and strong characters win out. Thirty years later, we realise that whichever side of the fence you sit on, it’s rightly considered to be one of the more true representations of teenagers in cinema.