American filmmaker and writer John Hughes is regarded as one of the most influential directors of all time. Ostensibly a director of the 1980s and ’90s, he directed a slew of cult classics such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which are now cherished as definitive coming-of-age films and iconic movies of their era.
Born in Michigan in 1950, Hughes grew up in a neighbourhood where there were few kids were his age to pass the time with. Consequently, he spent most of his time on his own and used his imagination to cope with the isolation. This theme of childhood isolation would become a significant point in some of his most lauded titles, including The Breakfast Club and Uncle Buck. Added to the isolation Hughes felt growing up, his family constantly moved from town to town, heightening his sense of displacement.
He dropped out of university to try comedy, selling his material to top performers like Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers. From this, he caught the eye and rapidly established himself as a genius comedy writer, becoming a contributing editor at the National Lampoon where he cultivated an audience due to his sharp wit. The stories he wrote for the magazine became the basis of his later notable works like National Lampoon’s Vacation, which ranks among his very best.
Hughes made his directorial debut in 1984 with the seminal teenage film Sixteen Candles, and it established many of the hallmarks of the genre that we see ubiquitous today. Everything from Clueless to Mean Girls and Juno owe a lot to the film, a testament to Hughes’ skill.
His other films, such as The Breakfast Club, Uncle Buck and Planes, Trains & Automobiles, confirmed Hughes’ status as one of the best comedy directors around, but it was with the 1990 Christmas flick, Home Alone, where he truly cemented his name amongst the greats of cinema.
One notable point of Hughes’ films is the use of music. The most unforgettable instance of this has to be in The Breakfast Club and his now-iconic use of The Simple Minds anthem ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’. There were other brilliant moments, though, such as The Beatles’ ‘Twist and Shout’ in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Brenda Lee’s ‘Rocking Around The Christmas Tree’ in Home Alone.
Duly, it won’t surprise you to hear that John Hughes was an avid music lover. Through music and art, he managed to sate his childhood isolation, opening up his mind to infinite possibilities, which would eventually whisk him away from the clutches of everyday life.
Whilst he was a big fan of John Lennon and The Beatles, Bob Dylan had the most significant effect on him. During a 1986 interview for Seventeen in 1986, conducted by Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club star Molly Ringwald, Hughes explained that it was Bob Dylan’s fifth album, Bringing It All Home, that changed his life for the better.
The director said: “I grew up in a neighbourhood that was mostly girls and old people. There weren’t any boys my age, so I spent a lot of time by myself, imagining things. And every time we would get established somewhere, we would move. Life just started to get good in seventh grade, and then we moved to Chicago. I ended up in a really big high school, and I didn’t know anybody.”
He explained: “But then The Beatles came along (and) changed my whole life. And then Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home came out and really changed me. Thursday I was one person, and Friday I was another. My heroes were Dylan, John Lennon and Picasso, because they each moved their particular medium forward, and when they got to the point where they were comfortable, they always moved on.”
It’s a testament to Bob Dylan that he had such a transformative effect on the young John Hughes, as without him, it’s probable that the unique artistic spirit we all love Hughes for today might not have been ignited, and we’d be without many of our favourite films.
It’s also interesting that Hughes loved Bringing It All Back Home, as it’s the album where Dylan went electric. Many at the time criticised it as they felt he’d turned his back on his folk roots and sold out. They were wrong, though, as it featured classics such as ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, and is now regarded as one of Dylan’s very best.
John Hughes’ undying love for Bob Dylan is just another reason why we love and miss the late director so much.
Listen to ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’.