Tuesday, March 31, 2015

you grow up, your heart dies

Pale Rider (which I may watch in my upcoming month of westerns) in its opening weekend is #1. Cocoon in its 2nd weekend is #2. Rambo: First Blood Part II (which I already covered back in January in this blog) in its 6th weekend is #3.

And, Andie MacDowell--Rita Hanson herself--is in this movie... Oh, I'm not watching The Breakfast Club just yet. Started the blog a little early. I'm watching St. Elmo's Fire first. Wanted to explore the whole "brat pack" thing a little bit before my week with The Breakfast Club is through.

St. Elmo's Fire--which stars (among others) Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Emilio Estevez as college graduates the very same year they starred as high school students in The Breakfast Club--is #4. Goonies in its 4th weekend is #5. Fletch in its 5th weekend is #6... and then you get into movies I didn't see in the theater. Lifeforce at #7. Prizzi's Honor at #8... actually, I may have seen that in the theater and just didn't get it. Return to Oz at #9. Then, A View to a Kill, Brewster's Millions and Beverly Hills Cop, all three of which I saw in the theater, at #10, #11 and #12, respectively. In fact, I think Brewster's Millions was actually seen at a drive-in with the beginning of A Nightmare on Elm Street... yes, the beginning of; apparently, that movie was too much for my mother or she thought it was too much for me, and we left. Of course, I spent our exit drive looking out the back window at the movie.

Coined by David Plum in New York Magazine, 10 June 1985, the "Brat Pack"--according to Cracked, consisted originally of Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy... "Despite what Hollywood says," Cracked tells us, "those are the real Brat Packers." Others would get included here and there, but basically the Brat Pack was a mix of cast members from The Breakfast Club and/or St. Elmo's Fire. In that original New York article, Plum tells us the Brat Pack "is to the 1980s what the Rat Pack was to the 1960s--a roving band of famous young stars on the prowl for parties, women, and a good time." A little sexist, but probably not entirely inaccurate. Plum continues: "And just like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis Jr., these guys work together too--they've carried their friendships over from life into the movies." And vice versa. The cast of The Breakfast Club celebrate Anthony Michael Hall's 16th birthday, for example, together at Chuck E. Cheese. Despite Cracked's list, Plum lists Taps (no one on that list is in it) and The Outsiders (two of them are in it... but Tom Cruise is in both. Plum calls Tom Cruise "The Hottest of Them All" out of the various Brat Packers) as early Brat Pack films. Plum also includes Sean Penn and Nicolas Cage, the former quite prevalent in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (which I watched recently for this blog) and the latter of which debuted in--but had no lines--in the same.

Another weekend, four months earlier: Beverly Hills Cop in its 11th weekend is #11. Witness in its 2nd weekend is #2. And, The Breakfast Club in its 1st weekend is #3. Saw all three in the theater.

This movie--St. Elmo's Fire--is a meandering thing, no obvious throughline, a few too many characters, but it gets at an idea central to The Breakfast Club as well; as Billy (Rob Lowe) explains in the film,

...this isn't real. You know what it is? It's St. Elmo's Fire. Electric flashes of light that appear in dark skies out of nowhere. Sailors would guide entire journeys by it, but the joke was on them; there was no fire. There wasn't even a St. Elmo. They made it up. They made it up because they thought they needed it to keep them going when things got tough, just like you're making up all of this. We're all going through this. It's our time at the edge.

This bunch of friends is having trouble figuring out their lives. They're out of college and at the point where they should be getting on with their lives, but they're a bit stuck on old relationships and turning those into new relationships in some cases... They're acting like bloody teenagers is what it is. (Kevin even has trouble getting Leslie's bra off.) Jules "doesn't know who to be anymore." It's a boat they are all in. As Janet Maslin put it, "[St. Elmo's Fire's] characters are old enough to enjoy the first flushes of prosperity, but still sufficiently youthful to keep their self-absorption intact. But soon enough, they will be forced to give up their late-night carousing at a favorite bar and move on to more responsible lives."

The thing is, the teenage characters in The Breakfast Club have the same basic problem. Old enough that people expect something from them, young enough that they can still be self-centered (if not selfish). Soon, though, they will get out of high school, will (probably) be forced out of their parents' houses, and they will have to find lives to live and live them.

As The Breakfast Club begins, I wonder what happened to Allison Reynolds, Andrew Clark, Brian Johnson, Claire Standish and John Bender... or Richard Vernon or Carl Reed for that matter. Susannah Gora (author of You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation) in the Washington Post, 26 September 2010, imagines these characters' futures, but I think she aims for the cute more than the realistic. Allison, for example, she has eventually becoming an adolescent psychologist, writing "a best-selling book that encourages teens to retain their individuality and to focus on inner beauty. She often tells her teenager patients, 'When you get old, your heart doesn't have to die.'" Brian "keeps a ceramic elephant lamp in his office to remind him how far he's come." Andy's knee does give out and he ends up at a physical therapist. John joins the army and for some reason is invited to speak at a career day at Shermer High and is inspired to gets his master's in education. "He went on to become one of the most beloved teachers at Shermer high and currently serves as its principal." A little too neat. A little too cute.

The best detail in Gora's piece might be the most poignant and depressing--that when Andy ran into Allison at O'Hare Airport, "they hadn't talked since that day in detention." (She has Claire and John, on the other hand, having an "intense, clandestine romance after their day in detention... followed by an equally intense breakup.")

I imagine things a bit differently--but maybe it's my cynical side rearing its head. Brian probably does okay, but ends up in IT, not something special like MySpace (which is how Gora has it). Allison probably remains mostly friendless as she graduates high school and tries to get into art school. Maybe she gets into art school. And, its the 80s so maybe she ends up at some graphic design company. But, her affair with Andy Clark doesn't last and while there are a string of men in her life, she remains mostly alone. Andy does well for himself. He gets into Ohio State as his father wants, but goes to Oklahoma State instead (Oklahoma State has more NCAA wins in wrestling than any other school.) He meets a nice young woman there and they marry. Eventually, he has a son who he pushes to excel. While he sometimes regrets this, he can't help it because he wants the best for his son just as his own father probably did. He forgives his father and lives a relatively contented life. Claire's future probably goes a little bit like Gora suggests and John predicted. She marries a little too early, "squeeze[s] out a few puppies" and does struggle with her weight. But, like Andy, she is relatively content. Most of the time she even considers herself to be happy. I don't see John joining the military--he didn't really want to be an air force ranger--except maybe to get out of something worse, like accidentally getting one of his many girlfriends pregnant (this is the 1980s and that seems like a perfectly feasible avoidance plan). He puts his shop skills to use working in construction or maybe as an auto mechanic. Something physical. He still smokes from time to time but eventually decides he's too old for it, cleans up his act a bit and settles down with a woman he meets at a bar. She, too, "squeeze[s] out a few puppies" and she gets fat, but he loves her anyway.

Or maybe they remain the best of friends, but only outside of school. Maybe, after graduation, the five of them vow to meet every Saturday morning for breakfast. They eventually stop doing so consistently, but they keep in touch. Many years later, maybe after Allison kills herself after dealing with depression for a long time--wow, this was supposed to be the happy version--they meet up again and when the internet comes along, they regularly email each other updates about their lives. After Claire's second divorce, she brings her car to Bender's Garage in Chicago and the two of them go out to lunch and she figures third time's the charm and they get married and live happily ever after...

Until he dies from a tumor that may have something to do with all the fumes he's been inhaling for decades working at the garage.

Couldn't have too happy an ending.

Andy and Brian attend the funeral, of course. And, life goes on.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

i am a walrus

The movie begins with the song "(Don't You) Forget About Me" over the opening titles. Then a black screen and lines from David Bowie's "Changes" (recommended to Hughes by Ally Sheedy, by the way):

"...And these children
that you spit on
as they try to change their worlds
are immune to your consultations.
They're quite aware
of what they're going through..."

Or think they're aware, anyway. It's a hopeful thought for teenagers--children--that they are "immune" to the actions or words of folks like Assistant Principal Richard Vernon (or Principal Edward Rooney) or teachers or mothers and fathers, or each other for that matter. Those who spit upon them, those who would tell them what to do and how to do it, who to be and how to be it--unfortunately, we are never entirely immune. Each of these characters is trapped in a role he/she didn't really choose. Whether smothered or ignored by parents, pushes around by the administrators, or pushed by peer pressure--

(And there's even peer pressure here in the movie, in the Saturday detention. At the start of the day, at the start of the film, these characters are not peers, not really. (Well, maybe Claire and Andy; they know each other.) So, John's pestering does not count. But, by the time the door has closed and they have all been there for John's revelation about his father, and they have all run through the halls together, and then protected John from Vernon when he's under the table--they are peers. They have become something more than disparate individuals stuck in detention. So, when John goes to smoke, there is peer pressure in effect that brings them all together. (To be fair, the movie never quite suggests that Allison has smoked any of John's marijuana, just in case the Shermer police are reading and the statute of limitations hasn't expired.) And later, there is quite explicit peer pressure when they gang up on Claire to get her to admit she's a virgin... which is an interesting turn structurally. Claire's ability to have a "white wedding" was one of the first things John tried to get out of anyone--through his pestering--and then it becomes the thing that ties them all together when it is finally answered... sort of. It's debatable where the big conversation really turns--Andy's confession, Claire's admission, Brian's... or maybe the moment when they all re-turn against John for clapping sarcastically at Claire's talent. Maybe they are all already together once the big conversation is happening. Maybe they were all already together when Saturday detention started. The "Breakfast Club" specifically comes from a morning detention, so maybe the point here is that the club was formed first thing in the morning... Or maybe they've always been together and just didn't realize it because of societal divisions put upon them.

Maybe the fast they're breaking is the lack of normal interaction between them. Maybe the fast they're breaking is they inability--or disallowance--to tell the truth about themselves, to be themselves.)

--these characters, and teenagers in general, do not get to choose who they are. They can make minor course corrections--for, as Meat Loaf sings in "Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are," "...if life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car"--but the road is already paved, the car is already pointed one way or another, and without some drastic moves, they just ain't gonna change it.

Fortunately for them, they are together in their powerlessness, and arguably gain some power, some agency, in revealing who they really are there in the Shermer High School library, Saturday, March 24, 1984. The point, obviously, is that these five teens are learning that they've all got problems, they've all got parents and friends telling them what to do and who to be. In the end, they might as well be singing, "I am he as you are he as you are me / And we are all together."

But, back to that highway. And, back to David Bowie. Earlier lyrics in the same verse of "Changes":

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same

A sentiment Phil Connors and Siddhartha could get behind, a sentiment we should all understand. Changes come, smaller to bigger, but the stream--the highway--remains the same. These give teenagers become the best of friends, then what happens? Can they accept everyone into their group? Or is it unsustainable? Is the formation of in-groups and out-groups a social necessity just as much as it seems to be a genetic inevitability? Does it matter when the days are all the same? New friends, new lovers, you're still in the same high school, you've still got the same parents, you've still got to get your public education finished and then get a job to live like everybody else, be a consumer and reify the world order.

Consider John's notion--a joke, of course--that Andy getting up will lead to everyone getting up and that will lead to anarchy. The closest these five get to anarchy is when they're fighting in act one. And then they discover that they are not all that different and, well, it's still anarchy, but not how most people understand it. Most people hear anarchy and think chaos. John may be a bit of an agent of chaos--

(For D&D fans, John certainly thinks he's chaotic good, but presents himself as chaotic evil, so I'm guessing he's more chaotic neutral.)

--and he may lead the others to anarchy, but it is not disorderly. Sitting around for their big conversation--the heart of this story--they are violating two of Vernon's three rules for their detention (not talking and not moving from their seats). But that doesn't mean that they are unruly, disordered, chaotic.

(Not that I meant to get into a debate about the definition of anarchy.)

If every day's the same and every one of us has to deal with (mostly) the same problems and pressures, then how hard it is to pretend to power, to exercise personal agency. How hard it is to affect change outwardly, or inwardly.

But, that doesn't mean change is impossible. It's just really fucking hard. And the world will conspire against it. Friends will conspire against, and probably unconsciously, because a changed you will be unrecognizable, to they will react poorly to anything new (probably) and react favorably to the you they know and love.

"Pretty soon now you're gonna get older" and you're "Just gonna have to be a different man" or woman (or however you care to be labeled), because time will change you. And, you will change you. And everyone around you will resist... or they will try to control the change.

I wish you luck in changing how you want to change, and damn them who would say otherwise. You be you. Be the eggman. Be the walrus. Be who you want to be. We're all in this together. We can't all be the same, no matter how much Mother Culture wants us to be.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

does barry manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?

Shrek: For your information, there's a lot more to ogres than people think.

Donkey: Example?

Shrek: Example... uh... ogres are like onions!

Donkey: They stink?

Shrek: Yes... No!

Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?

Shrek: No!

Donkey: Oh, you leave them out in the sun, they get all brown, start sprouting little white hairs...

Shrek: No! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers... You get it? We both have layers.

Donkey: Oh, you both have layers. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions. Cake! Everybody loves cake! Cakes have layers!

Shrek: I don't care what everyone likes! Ogres are not like cakes.

Donkey: You know what else everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, "Let's get some parfait," they say, "Hell no, I don't like no parfait."? Parfaits are delicious!

Shrek: No! You dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden! Ogres are like onions! End of story! Bye-bye! See ya later.

Donkey: Parfait's gotta be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!

I start with that for the obvious pun--as a continuation of yesterday's entry, I'm going to talk about the characters in The Breakfast Club removing layers of clothing as the film goes on--and to get back to Altman and Taylor's social penetration theory (which I covered in regard to When Harry Met Sally a while back).

First, the literal. Every character (except for Carl, but he's got so little screentime, it almost doesn't count) takes off clothes during this film. They all remove their outer layers, of course. It's March in Illinois so it's cold outside (and principal photography started 4 days after the Saturday on which the film is set). Early on, there's even an odd, but potentially connective, little moment between John and Brian when they both move to take off their coats at the same time. Brian balks and John continues. Because of this, Brian retains his only jacket while Claire still has her leather jacket on and Andy both of his jackets, Allison her coat, and John still has his denim jacket... I don't need to catalog every bit of clothing, but by the time they have smoked together and the big conversation scene happens, Claire's down a coat and scarf, Andy two jackets and a sweatshirt, Brian his jacket, and Allison her coat. John has even left his denim jacket behind after crawling out of the storage closet. In time to share information...

Well, let's be honest. They have already all revealed personal information by this point, but most of those revelations have happened in passing, without deliberation, and a few of those revelations have not really come by choice. For example, just as John has his nice quiet "fuck" after his big "fuck you" after getting two months more worth of detention--he is so used to being an asshole that he can't help it--he knocks all those books down and climbs up onto the staircase to be by himself after revealing that his father abuses him; his revelation is not intentional, exactly. His tendency to needle people until they reveal things just happened to get turned on him by Andy; he couldn't resist. And, his needling has also gotten others to admit details of their lives. The revelations don't become... peaceful or even voluntary until they smoke. Except for maybe Andy's admission to Allison in the hallway but even that is forced by her.

My point is, in time to reveal information willingly, they have all removed physical layers. Now they can reveal psychological layers. In fact, it is roughly halfway through the film that John strips off a couple layers, dances around the second floor of the library and shatters the glass on the "foreign language" booth--surely, there's no meaning to the room he's coming out of there. None at all.

In terms of Altman and Taylor, orientation has already happened. No matter how much John has tried to drag personal details out of people, the discussion has remained mostly impersonal. "Peripheral items are exchanged more frequently and sooner than private information" (Griffin, 2006, p. 121).

Gradually, this changes to explanatory affective exchange, in which "self-disclosure is reciprocal" (ibid). This begins with the smoking. Inhibitions weakened, these characters are willing to actually look at one another as people worthy of attention. They're literally seeing the world differently.

The big conversation--that's Altman and Taylor's affective exchange stage. This stage of the relationship "focuses on evaluative and critical feelings at a deeper level" (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p. 237). Griffin's (2006) description is key to the pace of the big conversation; "penetration," they write, "is rapid at the start but slows down quickly as the tightly wrapped layers are reached" (p. 121). The climax of the conversation may be Brian's revelation that he was contemplating suicide, but the heart of the scene is Andy's monologue, the point where the conversation slows down, the camera pans around the group slowly, and we are there with Andy in that moment. We get to see him anew just as Brian and Claire and Allison and John do.

There's a nice moment, very brief, when Brian is explaining about his failed lamp. He asks John, "Have you seen some of the dopes that take shop?" Even as John responds, "I take shop," Claire has flinched. She knows his response before he offers it. This, still in that same conversation, is something like the stable exchange stage. Littlejohn and Foss (2011) explain, this stage is "highly intimate and allows the partners [or quintet] to predict each other's actions and responses" (p. 237).

We are seeing complete relationships over the course of a single day. The ending may very well be the breakup. Claire may be right; come Monday, they will not be friends. But the point is that they opened up and had those relationships. They did not just exist in the vicinity of each other for another day. They allowed their circles to overlap. Maybe it's temporary, but they will likely be a little more willing to open up the next time. They will be better off.

I've neglected to mention Vernon's clothing removal. (By the way, even drinking with Vernon, Carl never removes his gloves, but he has unbuttoned his janitor's uniform, revealing a t-shirt beneath.) Unlike everyone else's, Vernon's removal is antagonistic--he removes his suit coat to challenge John into hitting him--but it is still quite revealing. Richard Vernon has proven from the start to be a guy who has apparently lost the ability to care about any of these kids. But, here we see just how far he would take it, just how much he sees his relationship with the students as an antagonistic one. At least Principal Rooney focuses all his ire on just one student.

[Correction: Brian <i>does</i> remove his sweatshirt, after he writes the essay.]

Works Cited

Griffin, E. (2006). A First Look at Communication Theory 6th Ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Littlejohn, S.W. & Foss, K.A. (2011). Theories of Human Communication 10th Ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland.

who you think you are

I happened upon a copy of John Hughes: A Life in Film at the bookstore today--seriously, I went there to see if they had LEGO minifigures, didn't even go to look at books--and I noticed this scanning through it:

I already wanted to write about the clothing in this film, from Barry Manilow-wardrobe-raiding Assistant Principal Vernon's suit to John Bender's denim jacket with its various pins--and I really wished I could have seen some of his pins better on the bigscreen last night but the only one that ever really gets near the camera is the NOT SAVED pin on his glove.

These characters are quite deliberately defined by their clothing and their general appearance. And, there really isn't much to be said about the character types and what they wear that hasn't been time and time again--not that that stops me usually. What I think is notable outside of the costumes themselves in The Breakfast Club is two things: these characters try on parts of each others costumes throughout the film--every one of them (except Claire) does at least once; and partly because of the cold weather but also because shedding the layers works as a simple metaphor, these characters all remove layers as the film goes along.

As far as trying on each other's costumes, there are a few, obvious examples. John gives his sunglasses to Andy and both Andy and Brian later wear them. At the end of the film, Allison not only wears a headband we can assume belongs to Claire, not to mention the makeup, but also has Andy's hoodie (not that we called them that back then) over her shoulders... she is, of course, probably pretty cold without her own two coats on and that sleeveless blouse. And, most obvious, because the film focuses on it, John receives and then wears Claire's diamond earring. He also wears a different shoe (just one) when he's on the basketball course.

So, what's the point?

The shoe is actually a good example. He's playing basketball, even claims he's going for a scholarship, so he's got to play the part, got to wear the costume. I mean, how else do teenagers differentiate themselves in the crowd?

(I went to a small school that had uniforms, so this bit was even harder. Everyone wearing the same three skirts, or the same three pants, the same two shirts, it usually came down to jackets and hair.)

How are any of us, teenaged or not, supposed to let people know who we are at a glance? Dress for success, and all that, or the alternative, dress to fail, or any of the myriad of possibilities in between; it's not all about success or failure, but it is about identity, Goffman's presentation of self. It's about what we want to tell the world about who we are.

(When I teach, for example, I don't dress up in a suit and tie. I do wear a button-up shirt, but short sleeved, and open over a t-shirt, usually a fairly nerdy shirt I bought from TeeFury. I'll wear jeans or cargo pants, and if it's a speech day or I'm just not feeling the whole pants thing, I will wear shorts. As I tell my students--if you're new to this blog, I teach public speaking--you don't have to dress up to present before the class as long as you can draw attention to what you're saying. If I know what I'm talking about, if I come prepared, what I'm wearing won't matter so much.)

Allison's got her layers of black and grey, Andy his letterman jacket, Claire her leather jacket, John his trench coat. Underneath, consider Brian's plain green sweatshirt to John's flannel or Claire's pink blouse. It's normal to differentiate characters by their costumes, but this works on a different level, representing the reality of these characters and how they present themselves, how the real teenagers in the audience would present themselves.

In an interview with Elle magazine, Ally Sheedy calls her costume "perfect." "Right from the beginning there was nothing to change," she says. "There was Allison right there. She was already in my head and in my body. I felt like she was beginning to inhabit me, and when I put the clothes on I felt it was correct." And, she didn't like the makeover. She explains:

It was written in the script. I don't know if John [Hughes] wrote that or it was a studio thing that they wanted Allison to go from being very plain to being suddenly very glamorous. I didn't like that. I had come up with this thing about her black eye makeup and very pale skin so I thought, 'Could it be more that she's taking this mask off?' John did give me that and they didn't really put a whole bunch of makeup on me; it was more about revealing who Allison is. I wish it had been a little more of that and a little less of, 'Let's make her pretty.'

It does play more as making her pretty than revealing who she is. Who she is is that girl in black with her hair in her face. But, Hollywood doesn't work that way. Blubber McNeil can't be attractive naked and Allison Reynolds can't be attractive with too much black stuff around her eyes. "I liked how Allison looked anyway," Ally says. (I agree.) "I don't particularly subscribe to the idea that you have to to look a certain way to suddenly look gorgeous to everyone." She explains further:

But, it was a moment of passage in that movie. It had to do, I guess, with her becoming more part of the group in some way. Not using what she looked like to put people off. To become more inviting in some way. And then Emilio's character had to somehow see her as pretty. Honestly, I have no idea. I don't think it needed to happen. But I think everybody needed to have their moment of truth and I guess that was something for Allison.

I think we need to understand the makeover not in how it changes Allison--seriously, I don't think she's going to start dressing differently come school on Monday, with her hair pulled back out of her face. Maybe she will, but that's not the point. The point was not just for her to not use "what she looked like to put people off" but also for Andy to get past his own hangups. He has already made moves toward her previously but the makeover offers him the push to do something truly outside his comfort zone. Will it last?

INSERT SHRUG HERE.

In a comment on yesterday's entry, Maolsheaclann says, "The most poignant thing about this film... is that John Hughes admitted that the group would never have met up again." Yeah, there was talk of sequels, a reunion of the "Breakfast Club" every ten years, but it's probably better that it never happened. It does make the film more poignant, more meaningful. The point is not that these characters can become best friends in a day; that is unrealistic. We don't need to assume that Allison's makeover will be permanent or that Andy will still be interested come Monday, or that Claire and John will be together. What really matters is that they make the gestures, that they move toward each other instead of away, even if only for this one day. It doesn't need to last to matter.

Same with the layers... but I'll get to that tomorrow. The movie ended ten minutes ago.

Friday, March 27, 2015

the kind of friends i would have

7:30 show of The Breakfast Club was sold out, which kind of made me wish even more I'd been there. But, we--my son and I--made it to the second show. I had gone with the high school movies this month because I knew this film would be in theaters, so I'm glad we didn't miss it.

10:30 show wasn't as crowded, but at least it wasn't empty.

The "event" began with some slide beforehand with trivia (facts, not questions) about the movie and its stars. Some examples:

Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall dated for a while after filming The Breakfast Club.

Not that exciting, that one.

Judd Nelson was a philosophy major at Haverford College.

On the one hand, definitely more interesting. And, it gets even more interesting when you consider the phrasing. It doesn't say that he got a degree, just that he was a "philosophy major." He could have taken like one philosophy class, for all we know.

Hughes' business partner's son attended New Trier High School where the students referred to morning detention as "The Breakfast Club." John Hughes thought it was a perfect title for his film.

This is the kind of thing anyone who would go to a 30th anniversary screening should have known at least 29 years ago. But, I'm more concerned with the choice to call John Hughes "Hughes" at the start of this one and then expanding it to "John Hughes" in the second sentence. That should totally be reversed. Amateurs.

Ally Sheedy was a published author at the age of twelve.

Yep, a children's book called She Was Nice to Mice: The Other Side of Elizabeth I's Character Never Before Revealed by Previous Historians. At first, when I looked that up, I just found the short title--She Was Nice to Mice--and I thought that's cute. Then, I saw the subtitle, and damn, girl was writing historical fiction for kids when she was still a kid. That's awesome. (Plus, it was illustrated by a 13-year-old.) By the way, she was Alexandra Elizabeth Sheedy then. Shorter name came later.

Originally, only Claire was supposed to dance, but Molly Ringwald felt uncomfortable so Hughes had the entire cast dance.

Mildly interesting.

Molly Ringwald was ranked number 1 in VH1's 100 greatest teen stars of all time. Anthony Michael Hall came in at number 4.

Not surprising. Of note, readers, considering other films covered in this blog this month: Ally Sheedy was #34, Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller) was #28, and Phoebe Cates (Linda in Fast Times) was #55, Jennifer Jason Leigh (Stacy, Fast Times) #71, Sean Penn (Spicoli, duh) #81, Robert Romanus (Damone, Fast Times) #96 .

Emilio Estevez's real father is actor Martin Sheen. His brother is Charlie Sheen.

Boring. Knew that one before I knew who Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen or Charlie Sheen was. But then, my son didn't know, and I hope there were a lot of people seeing these 30th anniversary screenings that weren't necessarily very familiar with the movie. And, good. I'm glad. My son had seen the film before but afterward told me he'd only really remembered the big conversation about why they're all in detention, but didn't recall the dancing or the smoking.

"Don't You (Forget About Me)" was written by Keith Forsey and performed by Simple Minds. Forsey wrote the song after watching rehearsals and talking to the actors. It became a No. 1 hit.

Interesting sidenote: supposedly Forsey asked, among others, Billy Idol to perform the song. Another sidenote: apparently Molly Ringwald recorded a rather bluesy version of the song for her 2013 album Except Sometimes.

After the slides, the "Retrospective" played. It was maybe 10-15 minutes and, I realized as it was playing, quite SPOILER-filled for anyone in the audience who might have been dragged along by parents, say, and never seen the film before. It was a rather straightforward, talking heads (and interesting term considering one of the details coming below) documentary, brief but interesting.

(Note: while I was able to photograph--allegedly--the slides to get them word-for-word, I had to scribble notes for this part, so if my wording is not exact, I apologize.)

Michael Lehmann, director of Heathers, described John Hughes as having his hands on "the pulse of adolescence." Amy Heckerling, director of Fast Times at Ridgemont HighJudd Nelson (John Bender) said Anthony Michael Hall's Brian Johnson "is just lovable. You can't root against him." The film certainly avoids painting him in a negative light--in terms of his actions or words aimed outward, anyway. Diablo Cody, writer of Juno, suggested Hughes' "allegiance is to the geeks" even though the film clearly is more inclusive than that.

Judd Nelson may have had the best insights about the film. For example, he suggested that the key to the earring was that John took it at all. After making a big deal about how Claire had nice things, he arguably shouldn't have, but he does, "if for no other reason," Nelson adds, "so he can talk to her on Monday." Regarding Allison's change in the third act, he says what matters is that she let Claire do something for her. Diablo Cody said she never thought Allison's dark clothes and eye makeup were an affectation but who she was, implying that the change put upon her by Claire was temporary. I wonder if Andy's interest--considering he turned out to actually be a caring person and not the "Sporto" everyone thought he was--won't a) help her make some permanent changes or b) make him open up to the old version a bit more... I mean, he was making an effort to talk to her well before the makeover.

Diablo Cody didn't seem to appreciate the label "teen movie"; I think she called it an insult. We don't label other movies as "adult movies," she said... which made me wonder if she'd ever heard of pornography. I mean, I get her point. As she put it, these films just happen to have teenage protagonists. But, we do so love labels... "basketcase" "jock" "teen movie" "slasher film" "criminal" "princess" "comedy" and whatnot. I think I've argued numerous times now in this blog that all movies are essentially the same. Wright's (1975)* juxtaposition of myth and film as as measures of who and what we are as society and as individuals comes to mind. As with teenagers as with film, the more of them there are out there, the more it seems necessary to group them together and classify them, and, in the case of teenagers, the more they classify themselves and hole up in their in-groups, because what else are they going to do, really?

Finally, Judd Nelson again to end the retrospective (and I will try to incorporate my notes on the screening itself in the next several days if something seems important)... "Don't leave people out in the cold," he said. "Don't talk down to people." Regardless of differences, regardless of in-group or clique, my more profane take on it is this: get the fuck over yourself and spend some time with other people, with different people. Get to know them, let them get to know you. Maybe your interactions won't go past a single conversation. Maybe you'll make a new best friend and discover some new interests for yourself in the process. Whatever happens, you will be better off for having done something new.

* Wright, W. (1975). Sixguns and Society: A Structural Study of the Western. Berkeley: University of California Press. - Because there will be westerns in this blog soon and I'm studying up.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

an essay of no less than a thousand words

Shermer High School.

I would not want to be a student there. Principal Edward Rooney, Assistant Principal Richard Vernon. It's got to be a police state.

On a good day.

There are certainly some interesting people there. Jeannie Bueller. John Bender. Sloane Peterson. Cameron Frye. Claire Standish. Ferris Bueller. Andrew Clark. Allison Reynolds. Brian Johnson. Garth Volbeck. Simone Adamley.

And so many more.

Hell, even Rooney and Vernon, and Carl Reed, Grace (whatever her last name is), Florence Sparrow, that boring English teacher, that boring Economics teacher...

Everybody is worth some time sometime.

you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it

I’m home from a spontaneous trip to the Hollywood Hills tonight. Went up there with my son, and we hiked around in the dark and took some cool photos of the city lights. It’s the kind of spontaneous trip that makes life quite interesting. The kind of trip that slows life down so you can look around.

Ferris’ philosophy, which he relates at the start and end of the film, is like the thesis statement for the Groundhog Day Project. For Groundhog Day. For Phil Connors. I think of my WWPCD? bracelet and the answer is simple—take whatever Ferris Bueller would do and shave off a little dickishness.

But, there are some other things to get out of the way on this, Day 7 with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The lost topics. i.e. the topics I could get to if I had more days. I mean, if I had another week or more with this movie, I could do an entire series of entries on German-American immigrant history in Chicago and how this film is a celebration of their contribution to America—you think it’s a coincidence that Ferris gets out of the way not five minutes into the film that he doesn’t condone fascism? Nope. As a German-American, he wants to assure us in the audience that he is not a Nazi or a Nazi sympathizer. It’s important.

(And, my crazy tangents impress even me sometimes.)

Still, it does suggest a potential horror in Ferris telling us “you can never go too far.”

A minor topic would be how Katie Bueller hangs flyers on some rather nice framed photos by her desk. I mean, what does that say about her as a person? Nice framed photos of your coworkers and you stick ugly ol’ flyers on them? That’s just wrong.

Another minor topic would be the personalized license plates. Morris Frye’s Ferrari, for example, bears the plate NRVOUS. Far more appropriate to Cameron than his father (probably). (And, there’s a whole other day’s entry worth of material in the fact that, apparently, they never used an actual Ferrari in the filmOther personalized plates: Tom Bueller’s car bears MMOM, reference to the film Mr. Mom, Katie Bueller’s car bears VCATION, reference to National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Jeannie’s car bears TBC, reference to The Breakfast Club. (By the way, today, March 24, is the 31st anniversary of the Saturday detention in that film.) All three of these films written by John Hughes. And, Rooney’s car, somewhat ironically, bears 4FBDO... FBDO for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and I’m guessing the 4 was because that car was sitting around just to Rooney could use it to chase after Ferris whenever he skipped school. What does that say about Rooney that he has a car just for that? Did he have a collection of cars like Morris Frye? Or just two—his everyday car and his Ferris Bueller’s Day Off car?

Another topic: filming locations, like I obsessed more than once with Groundhog Day last year—I think I may have obsessed a little extra once I knew I would be traveling to Woodstock, Illinois to see the locations in person. I don’t expect to be in Glenbrook or Chicago, Illinois anytime soon or I might obsess about finding Google Street View images of Cameron’s house or Ferris’ house... instead, I will just link you to a blog called Some Kind of Nostalgia, an entry about Shermer High School. And, I will note that I didn’t even catch until tonight that this was Shermer High School, the same fictional high school in The Breakfast Club.

(In passing, I must say, because it has not seemed appropriate before now and would hardly justify its own topic—I am absolutely amused by how the guy collecting money to buy Ferris a new kidney calls Jeannie a “heartless wench.” There’s just something so random about that particular label in that particular situation; it makes me laugh every time.)

Another minor topic: is Cameron a hockey fan? Does he play hockey? Why does he wear that Gordie Howe Detroit Red Wings jersey?

A topic that just now came up: what are these hats (on the right)?

And, I’d love to catalog all the stuff in Ferris’ room, or look into the moves playing at that theater we see very briefly during the parade—

Creature (1985 film directed by William Malone) , Devil Within Her (which may be an old movie (even at the time) also known as Beyond the Door, directed by O. Hellman and R, Barrett, released in 1974) and Ninja Mission (which may be a 1984 film directed by Mats Helge)

—not that they connect in any way at all to this film or its story, or I could get into Ferris’ class schedule...

If you can’t read it, his schedule:

  • MTWF - ENG COMP
  • MWTF - CALCULUS
  • TWTF - CHEMISTRY
  • ALL - LUNCH
  • MTWF - GYM
  • TWTF - COMPUTER SC
  • MWTF - UTOPIAN SCY
  • MTWF - EURO HIST

A bit of a complicated schedule, three classes before and four after lunch. And, while they seem to alternate a bit Monday and Tuesday and Thursday, presumably with longer periods, he’s got all seven classes Wednesday and Friday. Someone pinpointed the day taking place in the film to June 5, 1985 based on the baseball game, nevermind that the Steuben Parade takes place in September or that Ferris’ grades on that computer screen suggest it is, in fact, the third trimester of school... actually, the grades don’t contradict the June date, but the temperature reported early in the film—a high in the upper 70s for the day. Which makes me wonder a) why Ferris was sitting outside in a bathing suit at like 8am and b) why those sunbathers are outside at all in their bikinis, let alone facing away from the sun. June 5, 1985 was a Wednesday, which includes European History, so Ferris could, indeed, have had a test on European Socialism that day.

The two things I find most interesting about Ferris’ schedule are 1) that he is not taking an economics class and 2) he’s taking Utopian Sociology. Ben Stein’s boring economics teacher was not a scripted thing, so whoever was in charge of making that records screen probably wouldn’t have known to include an ECON class. Ben Stein had no script for his lesson aside from the role call, but went with economics because he has a degree in that, and John Hughes told him to do so, of course. That Ferris is taking Utopian Sociology is, perhaps, an insight into Ferris’ character. That doesn’t sound like a required class but an elective, and a rather progressive/liberal-sounding class for mid-80s Middle America.

My own recent thoughts on “utopia” stem from a recent reading of Jose Esteban Munoz’ (2006) “Stages: Queers, Punks, and the Utopian Performative” which gets into the idea of performing utopia. Essentially, the world you want—you act that world out, you create that world through your actions. Which actually brings me back around to the topic I wanted to talk about today on this, Day 7 with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But, I’m already over 1300 words—I aim for at least 1000 each day in this blog, and usually surpass that goal—and the film is already nearly over—Jeannie is talking to Garth in the police station.

(Garth’s older brother is in jail, by the way. And, Ferris tells us (in the shooting script) that he (Ferris) is probably Garth’s only friend. Garth’s mother owns a gas station (check out the name on the tow truck)

and his father is dead. His sister is “rumored to be a prostitute.” (I wonder if she’s the nurse who likes to—) Garth cries himself to sleep every night, for no particular reason, or at least none that he could explain one night when Ferris spent the night. “The guy’s so conditioned to grief,” Ferris explains, “that if he doesn’t feel it, he can’t sleep.” Garth’s brother—the one in jail—is “a registered psycho” who once “ate a whole bowl of artificial fruit just so he could see what it was like to have his stomach pumped.” Charlie Sheen’s tired-eyed drug user/dealer is actually probably closer to Garth’s brother than Garth, even though in the script it’s Garth that Jeannie meets at the police station.)

There was one more lost topic to get into before a good long ramble about, you know, the meaning of life and stopping to “look around once in a while.” This is Day 7 with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but it is also Day 600 of the Groundhog Day Project. 365 days in a row with Groundhog Day and more than 60 other movies since, half of those for 7 days each. There’s still another film this month—this time we will remain inside Shermer High School instead of skipping out for the day...

But anyway, the other lost topic: the museum.

I’ve already talked about Cameron getting lost in that Seurat painting, twice. But, I wanted to bring up Picasso and Cubism. The latter actually relates to yesterday‘s entry about depression in that the various elements of Cameron’s, Sloane’s and Ferris’ time in the city is like the many angles of a Cubist painting on a single image. The day off works as a deconstruction of Cameron Frye, as it turns out, only to refocus him into something new in the end. Maybe I’m stretching, but we do see plenty of Picasso’s work in the film... “Nude under a Pine Tree,” “The Old Guitarist” and notably, three Cubist pieces lined up with our three main characters.

Sloane stands before “Seated Woman in a Red Armchair” (1931). This is a portrait of Marie-Therese Walter, Picasso’s mistress (until he got a new one) and mother of his daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso.

Ferris stands before “Portrait of Sylvette David” (1954). Lydia Sylvette David is an artist herself. She worked in a pottery studio near Picasso’s place and he liked the way she looked and created 40 works inspired by her. By the way, Picasso has a whole lot more works out there than I expected, even as obviously famous he was, even when alive.

Finding any information on the painting Cameron stands before was quite hard. The most I could find was that it was called “Seated Woman.” Picasso’s got a lot of Seated Women. I finally found it labeled as “Femme Assise” (1949) in a Sotheby’s auction in 2004. I don’t know who the subject of the painting is.

The Art of Film blog says, “Perhaps Hughes wanted... the characters to be seen observing these paintings because they visually represent some of the disjointed feelings felt by high school seniors.” (Nevermind that Sloane is not a senior, of course.) This is right after the three of them have all posed before, and like, Rodin’s “Portrait of Balzac.” Balzac, of course, wrote La Comedie Humaine, which, contrary to Picasso’s Cubism, is central to realism in European literature. Juxtaposing these pieces of art, these scenes, these characters—we are offered a Cubist Reality, a reality separate from reality. Ferris Bueller’s day off (and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) offers us normal life twisted out of and away from its normalcy. Much like the original film that began this blog—Groundhog DayFerris Bueller’s Day Off shows us a trio of characters in a place that is not their usual stomping ground, and at least one of them is significantly changed. The weird thing is that Phil Connors is much more active in his own transformation than Cameron is in his. I don’t buy the theory going around that Ferris is just a figment of Cameron’s imagination—how do you explain, for example, Jeannie’s role in the film? Rooney’s? But, one could argue, especially in comparing this film to Groundhog Day, that Ferris Bueller is more like pre- or early-loop Phil Connors, late-in-the-day Cameron more like late- or post-loop Phil Connors. I’m not sure that Ferris Bueller learns anything from his day off. I’m not sure Ferris’ world has changed at all, really. Except inasmuch as, underneath his selfish exterior, Ferris actually does care about his friend and his friend is better off at the end of the day.

The museum scene ends quite deliberately. After all three characters pose as Balzac and then stare at Picasso paintings, after they have all had the opportunity to be contemplative, Ferris and Sloane retire to the darkened space by Chagall’s “America Windows” to kiss. They know who they are, and they want to be together. Cameron, though, has a little more to contemplate—staring at the Seurat painting—because he does not know who he is just yet. He’s still trapped in an idea of who Cameron Frye is, of who he is expected to be, of who he thinks he needs to be to (barely) survive.

And, that’s something we all face. Who we are expected to be, who we think we should be, who society and culture and family and friends tell us to be—these are not always the same person and are often not who we want to be. The hard part is figuring out how to navigate the sea of expectations while still maintaining some semblance of self, some semblance of agency.

The simple thing—whether performing utopia or simply navigating that sea of expectations—is a line from Tolstoy: “If you want to be happy, be.” On the one hand, it sounds like happiness is a choice. On the other hand, happiness comes from, well, just being. Being you. Being me. Making our own choices and acting toward our own interests and goals.

Life does move pretty fast. But, if you manage it well enough, it’s one hell of a ride. Don’t ever miss it, if you can help it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

sooner or later everybody goes to the zoo

"It's one of those things a person has to do; sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly" - Edward Albee, The Zoo Story

(Sounds a little like Phil Connors.)

Cameron Frye, to make a journey that is entirely internal, has to spend the day out and about. He's got to make a phony phone call, eat some pancreas, see a Cubs game, spend time at a museum, steal a car and later wreck it. This day Ferris has built is like a failed acupressure exercise--each event corresponds to some portion of Cameron's mind, but ultimately, it comes down to a failure (the odometer) and his own somewhat deliberate property damage to pull him out of his funk. (As I mentioned in passing, yesterday, in the shooting script, Cameron does not kick the car in a fit of rage but does knock the car off the jack, and does the latter on purpose.)

And, wouldn't it be nice if real life worked like that? If depression like Cameron's could be cured in a single day? Take a day for yourself, have some fun, and all is well. The problem is we tend to see depression as something more commonplace, like I had a bad day yesterday, I'm depressed. I do not think that is Cameron's problem. Cameron's got medications, plural, in his bedroom, he's physically sick because he's mentally sick--after he heads off to be with Ferris, notice we never have any reason to think Cameron is physically sick again. It's all in his head. And, I don't mean that in the casual way we throw that term around either. Cameron's life is depressing, sure...

I almost want to separate out the terms, little-d depression for the casual "bad day" kind of shit that we all claim from time to time, big-D Depression for the more serious, chemical depression that while certainly related to the little-d depression, is a much more serious thing. And it cannot be fixed with a day at a baseball game and a museum, or by eating a little pancreas. Not even by seeing Mia Sara change her clothes.

When I started this blog, almost 600 days ago, I might have been Depressed. Don't quote me on that, future, thesis-writing me. Or maybe I was just depressed, or maybe I was just lost, confused. I know life wasn't going how I wanted it to go.

Someone close to me is dealing with big-D Depression of late, and it pains me that there isn't an easy fix. The simple fix for little-d depression is a good day to combat the bad one. But, big-D Depression is not just a singular bad day, or even a series of bad days. It's bigger, it's deeper, it's meaner, it's dark and conniving, wrestling in between the cracks of your mind so that even when there is a good day, there's darkness at the end of the tunnel instead of light; the good day is an anomaly that just goes to prove how fucked up and unwinnable life is. Not that you need to be able to win. But you can certainly feel like you're losing... It may seem like a flippant metaphor, but think about it like this if you can't get your mind around the distinction between little-d depression and big-D Depression: a sports team with a losing record, a bad season that will never recover, can still win a game, can still have a good day. But, then the next game comes, the next day comes, the next battle comes and it's always an uphill battle.

(To mix a whole lot of metaphors.)

Miguel (St. Orberose) blogged about Edward Albee's The Zoo Story back in 2012. His opening, aside from getting into the heart and the meat of Albee's play, evokes the pain of a life lived with mental illness, Depression or otherwise. "Loneliness and the madness of loneliness," he begins.

The meek, enduring reader and the acerbic, pushy suicide. The impossibility of communication between man. The failure of a man to communicate with a dog. The deadly duel for the ownership of a park bench. The story of a man totally unfit for living with human beings. The calculated plan to bring an ordinary man to a state of imbecility. The unfinished story of what happened at the zoo...

Aside from his notion that Jerry's actions are "calculated" that's a pretty good summation of the absurd scene in The Zoo Story. It's all about our inability to communicate with one another--a theme continued in Albee's Homelife (published together with The Zoo Story as At Home at the Zoo) which shows us what was going on with Peter before he heads to the park to read. He and his wife have their own communication problems, and though it seems they are doing pretty well as a couple generally, there are some obvious problems, stemming almost immediately from their inability to communicate what they want. The play begins with Peter reading and Ann comes up behind him:

ANN
We should talk.
(Waits; no reply; turns, exits whence.)

PETER
(After she goes--recognizing he had heard her.)
What? We should--what?
(Louder.)
We should what?!

ANN (Offstage)
What?
(Reentering.)
We should what?

PETER
We should what?

ANN Oh. (Slight pause.) We should talk. (Wipes her hands with the towel.)

It continues, but the point is neither one knows what the other is saying, and Ann doesn't even remember what she wanted to talk about in the first place. They do have a talk, about books, about sex, about their marriage... But it doesn't come from anything deliberate. It just happens.

For a quick comparison, this just happened in Ferris Bueller's Day Off:

FERRIS
You want to get married?

SLOANE
Sure.

She clearly does not take him seriously and certainly doesn't expect his next line.

FERRIS
Today? I'm serious.

SLOANE
I'm not getting married.

FERRIS
Why not?

SLOANE
What do you mean, why not? Think about it.

FERRIS
Well, no. Besides being too young, having no place to live, you feeling a little awkward about being the only cheerleader with a husband, give me one good reason why not?

CAMERON
I'll give you two good reasons why not. My mother and my father. They're married and they hate each other.

And so it goes. That last bit is a key detail when it comes to communication. That's an example of antithesis. What we take as what "married" means runs entirely counter to hating each other. And that is the world in which Cameron lives. As Ferris describes it, Cameron's house is like a museum--"very beautiful and very cold and you're not allowed to touch anything." Cameron, living in that museum, thinks of himself as "bullshit." He explains: "I put up with everything. My old man pushes me around. I never say anything. Well, he's not the problem. I'm the problem."

A sidenote (perhaps): the restaurant where they eat pancreas is called Chez Quis. On the one hand, I've read that it may be a pun on Shakey's, a far more generic, family pizza restaurant chain. But, the French could be translated as "at anyone." Consider the day these three are having. Sightseeing like tourists from the top of the Sears Tower; eating pancreas at a fancy restaurant; cheap seats at the Cubs game; a nice art museum trip (where Cameron gets lost in the a sort of reflection of himself in that little girl in the Seurat painting... I could get into Lacan's mirror stage here, but I won't); and the down-to-earth, common man, German-American Steuben Parade. It's an almost deliberate back-and-forth from one sociocultural personality to another, pushing and pulling Cameron one way and then another until something is knocked loose and he lightens up. It's shallow, Hollywood methodology, but you can see it working along the way. Upon leaving the restaurant, seeing Ferris' father outside, Cameron wants to give up. But, then he has a good time at the baseball game, and a thoughtful, meditative time at the museum and when Ferris is on that float, sure to be caught if anything he did that day would get him caught--

(In the shooting script, Ferris also gets on the radio and says his name on the air, but there's actually just enough anonymity possible on a parade float that he's actually unlikely to get caught over that performance.)

--Cameron is having a nice, normal conversation with Sloane. Sure, they're talking about how they aren't sure where their lives are going, but how many teenagers are sure about where their lives are going. Later, Cameron tells Ferris and Sloane, "I'm gonna miss you guys next year." On the one hand, we could assume he's thinking Ferris will get into college and move away and that will take away his link to Sloane so they won't spend anytime together, but for some reason I assume Cameron does think that he will also get into college; he just doesn't know where that's going to take him, long term.

And, that's normal.

And, it's understandable that teenagers might be depressed, or Depressed. Old enough to have responsibilities and real expectations, but young enough that most of your life choices are restricted by other people.

Sometimes it's not a choice you can make--when you're big-D Depressed, you can feel like no choice you make is fully yours or that it will work out if it is yours--but Cameron says it well--if in Hollywood simplistic language: "I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I am going to take a stand. I'm gonna defend it. Right or wrong, I'm gonna defend it."

Hollywood psychology. Simple. Kick a car a few times, raise your voice, then laugh about it.

And, if that doesn't work, maybe the rest of us will not be assholes about it and tell you to just get over it because what do you have to be depressed about?

You don't, necessarily, need a friend like Ferris to drag you out of bed and make you spend the day out and about.

But, it can help.

(And, I didn't even get to Gary Susman's story about how Ferris Bueller's Day Off helped him deal with depression as a teenager with divorcing parents.

Nor did I get back to Jerry and the dog, or what happened at the zoo...

Nor did I point out that there is nothing wrong with going to the zoo, nothing wrong with being Crazy, with being Depressed. It's not a value judgement on you, it's not a character flaw. It just is.

And, if you've got mental health issues with which you have to deal, I wish you luck. And, really, take a day off from time to time. Maybe it won't magically cure what ails you, but it can at least distract you for a little while, give you some time to recharge your batteries and ready for the day-to-day fight.)

the man could squash my nuts into oblivion

At least this movie is not all about sex. Unlike, say, Porky's or Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In the shooting script (1985, July 24), Ferris, Cameron and Sloane do go to a strip club, however--a "garrish, nearly deserted strip joint."

I won't paste the entire scene but basically, Sloane isn't impressed--"I'm losing respect for you by the bucket," she tells Ferris early in the scene--and Cameron is amazed (but has very little to do in the scene).

Some highlights:

Ferris: "You don't think it's amazing that we got in?

Sloane: Who wants to get in?

...

Sloane: I'm not interested in watching someone jiggle their mammary glands.

Ferris: Point well taken. But consider why she does it. Why she does it and you don't.

Sloane: I'm not a tramp.

Maybe not the best angle for Sloane, but at least it offers a little more depth to her character than the movie really does.

Ferris: Maybe her life fell apart. Maybe she lost somebody. A lover. A boyfriend. A parent. A child...
(to CAMERA)
This kind of thing makes me a little depressed. You may think because I'm the age I am that I'm a sex maniac. That sex is all I think about. I think alot [sic] of people my age are. We think about love and matters of the heart. And SAT scores and acne aside, we worry about lonliness [sic]. It's a terrible thing. And we feel it. I feel it.

Ferris makes the scene about him. He almost demonstrated some caring outside himself for a moment there, but no, it wouldn't stick. That's the way he is a lot in both the script and the final film; he clearly has some level of concern for others but there's good reason that Daniel O'Brien at Cracked suspects Ferris may be a sociopath. Though there are more human moments scattered throughout the film, mostly Ferris seems to only want to make Sloane and Cameron have a good time because he thinks he should. This is my girlfriend, society tells me I should make her happy. This is my best friend, society tells me I should make him happy... Actually, if that were all, he's probably do ok, probably do better than many non-sociopaths do. So many of us use out so-called friends... like fair-weather friends or whatever that term is. We're friends when we're together, but when we're apart, we couldn't care less. Same with girlfriends, boyfriends, lovers, husband, wives. It's kind of fucked up.

But, Ferris is a special case because he's oh so entertaining, and we've got a nice movie built around his enormous ego. The strip club scene ends with Ferris performing "Are You Lonesome Tonight," first from the floor then up on the runway, stealing the spotlight from a stripper. Ferris is so over-the-top that even when he's a jerk, we're entertained. Effectively, we are dragged along just like Cameron and Sloane are. Well, we're a bit more willing than Cameron.

As for more sex, there is the prostitute--who is simply "a sexy singing NURSE" in the script. Her lines were:

WE HOPE YOU'RE FEELING BETTER
WE HOPE YOU'RE FELLING [sic] FIT
WE...

Not, as in the final film:

I HEARD THAT YOU WERE FEELING ILL
HEADACHE, FEVER AND A CHILL
I CAME TO HELP RESTORE YOUR PLUCK
'CAUSE I'M THE NURSE WHO LIKES TO--

Unless she was looking to somehow rhyme "cook" with "pluck" that wasn't going to go somewhere wholesome... or legal.

In the jacuzzi (which the script identifies as being "Sloane's parents' jacuzzi"), Sloane and Ferris are, the script implies, naked. At least Sloane is supposed to be; when Cameron reveals a specific line of thought that was in his head while he was catatonic ("if you could only have the use of one word, what would it be?"), Ferris responds, "Sloane is naked before your eyes and you're thinking about words?"

(By the way, Ferris chooses first "bathroom" then "cash" then "hello." Sloane chooses "love." Cameron lets them know the word is "help." And, then he goes and decides he's taking a stand, without all the yelling and kicking, and deliberately pushes his father's car off the jack.)

There's more to Sloane in the script than in the movie--though my new favorite moment with her in the film, her doing homework while they're at the Cubs game, is not in the script--and I almost wish some of this had been left in...

For example, there are a couple sociopolitical bits in the script, one of which is prompted by Cameron...

Cameron: Are you guys worried about nuclear war?

Jump ahead a few lines.

Cameron: Regardless. It's with us every day. The possibility of global destruction.

Sloane: Don't you think it's an issue because people need something to worry about? They have to like, have some major problem that puts all their little bullshit into some kind of perspective?

Cameron: Maybe.

Then Ferris has to jump in. Selfish bastard.

Ferris: They use to have Viet Nam. They used to have the oil crisis stuff and Iran. That's over and people have to have their big issue.

Well, maybe, played right, this could feel like he's being supportive of what Sloane just said, but it's so easily just Ferris monopolizing the conversation like he monopolizes everything else. He continues...

Ferris: It's not like somebody came up with the nuclear holocaust yesterday at noon, you know.

Sloane: To answer your question... No, I'm not worried about it at all.

Skip ahead a few lines to one of the few details we get to know about Sloane at all.

Sloane: My step-father's always going off about how when he was young he was committed to all these causes.

Ferris: He's full of shit. All the old hippies are full of shit.

In a separate conversation (which I'll get to below), Ferris claims his mother was a hippie. This conversation continues...

Sloane: He says I don't care about things like he did.

Ferris: What's he care about now?

Sloane: Baldness, fatty meats and money.

Ferris: I rest my case.

Cameron: What's spooky is they still control everything. They took over when they were young and they never gave it up.

Ferris: One of the most frightening experiences of my young life has been observing my parents and our neighbors playing the Baby Boom Edition of Trivial Pursuits [sic]. It's chilling to see people crazed with the minutia of their past.

Cameron: It's human nature to like what you had better than what you have.

Sloane: Agreed.

That went on a while, and I think I'm far from talking about how this movie is not about sex. I find this bit about nostalgia being left out of the film. The whole point of this singular day in Sloane's, Cameron's and Ferris' lives is the creation of a memorable day before one chapter (high school) ends and another (college) begins. The point to taking this day off, arguably, is for something to be nostalgic for later. But, anyway...

Finally, regarding Sloane getting a bit more depth in the script, after Ferris departs (with a little less urgency than in the final film), we see Sloane in her room writing a letter, "[n]eatly bundled stacks of bills and rolled coins" on her bed. We do not see who the addressee is, but...

...in the amount of $1,765.33. It gives us great pleasure to assist you in performance of your worthy and much needed survives [sic] to those so desperately in need.

Sincerely,

Sloane Peterson
Executive Director
The Ferris Bueller Foundation

I guess they didn't raise the whole $50,000 for Ferris' hypothetical new kidney, but the money they did raise seems to be going to a good cause, via Sloane. I don't know if we're supposed to assume that Ferris has anything to do with this.

As for that other conversation, Ferris tells a story about his uncle who went to Canada to avoid going to Vietnam early in the script. (Right after this story, he also tells a story about a kid named Garth Volbeck, who turns out to be the boy at the police station (Charlie Sheen's character).) Ferris was grounded after after he questions... oh, it's complicated. I'll just copy and paste one more.

Ferris: My uncle went to Canada to protest the war, right? On the Fourth of July he was down with my aunt and he got drunk and told me Dad he felt guilty he didn't fight in Viet Nam. So I said, "What's the deal, Uncle Jeff? In wartime you want to be a pacifist and in peacetime you want to be a soldier. It took you twenty years to find out you don't believe in anything?"
(snaps his fingers)
Grounded. Just like that. Two weeks.
(pause)
Be careful when you deal with old hippies. They can be real touchy.

Skip down.

Ferris: My mother was a hippie. But she lost it. She got old. If she listens to the White Album now? She doesn't hear music, she hears memories. Nostalgia is her favorite drug. It'll probably be mine, too. I hope not.

Maybe it isn't fair to suggest that Ferris is trying to create a memorable day. He's just trying to do something that isn't boring, because life is boring. Will it be a memorable day when he's back in school? When he's off to college? When he's working a desk job like his father? Definitely.

Meanwhile, this movie works as a focus for our nostalgia. And, for we who are no longer teenagers, teenage movies can work as nostalgia, generally. Those boring classroom scenes in Ferris Bueller's Day Off--we can relate, we can remember the boring lectures, the classes we would have loved to skip, or that we did skip.

I can see why the hippie conversations were left behind. They don't sound like stuff teenagers would say. The strip club scene needed to go (and Sloane needed clothes in the jacuzzi scene) because otherwise this movie would not be the family-friendly comedy it is today. (Same with the savings bonds bit.) Seriously, this is a movie about a kid getting away with skipping school and getting way with several crimes in the process. Throw in a strip club and it's not going to play so well with families. As is... this is a movie we still talk about, a movie we still remember.

Nostalgia is a pretty good drug. That might be why I keep coming back to 80s movies.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

for people like us to tolerate a person like yourself

I would say Ferris Bueller's Day Off is classist, but a) I'm kind of in the mood to be more rambly and thoughtful and b) it's hard to argue a class conflict between Ferris, Cameron, Sloane, and Jeanie and the richer folks in the city... well, no, it's harder than it should be, but it's not hard.

The problem is that the Bueller family is obviously well off. Katie Bueller works in real estate, Tom works in advertising--and, seriously, he needs to be the guy the same actor plays in the beginning of Planes, Trains & Automobiles (and the garage attendant's friend should be Gummy from Fletch, having had enough of Los Angeles the year before). No good reason for it, but there's no reason he can't be, and movies connecting to one another is awesome, especially when it's just for shits and giggles (like most of Quentin Tarantino's movies linking up tangentially). Also, the Bueller family was supposed to have two more kids, 7-year-old Todd and 12-year-old Kimberly, and supposedly some scenes were filmed with them, but then they were cut.

(My own family--seven kids, but in 1986, four were not living at home, I think. Two were married, one had her own apartment, another was... itinerant. I bring us up for comparison. My father, an electrical contractor, was certainly doing well enough in the 80s, my mom was working... an office job at that point. A couple years earlier she'd worked in a school office. We were not rich. But, we had money. We certainly had spare cash for a lot of movies.

We didn't have a pool, though we knew a few people with pools. We didn't have a collection of sports cars, but we did have multiple vehicles. In '86, we had at least three vehicles at home.

Maybe I'm disproving my point about the Buellers. It's fairly easy at a certain working class level to present as middle class, even upper middle class. We had new clothes often. I always had the latest toys. As gifts one year... it may have even been 1986, the three of us still at home all got walkmans, and we had a home computer already by then, too, so we were technologically savvy. We had money for vacations, We did okay.)

The Fry family is also well off, more so (presumably) than the Bueller's. Cameron's father has a collection of sports cars in a fancy garage. [And, as I will figure out in the next couple paragraphs, they have a pool.] Plus Cameron can afford to have both a belt and suspenders to hold up his pants. If that's not the extravagance of someone rich, I don't know what is.

The Peterson family is (probably) well off as well. I think the pool where they spend time in the third act might be at Sloane's house, but then, why is she wearing that weird undergarment instead of a swimsuit. It could be Cameron's house, but the style of the house and the patio area does not seem congruent with the style of the garage. Here, look:

The front of Cameron's house:

The garage, for comparison:

The pool area:

If Ferris' sister and Mr. Rooney were not at the Bueller house around the same time, I would think the pool area matches the Bueller house pretty well, but by process of elimination, it's got to be Sloane's house. Which tells us something about Sloane, I suppose.

Another side of the house with the pool, by the way...

...which actually makes less sense now that I'm running through the movie on my phone to get the screencaps because 1) they're at the pool 2) they're at the garage 3) they're by those brick stairs 4) Ferris runs home... somehow, this has to be Cameron's house. Which ruins my next point.

My next point was going to be: Aside from not being embarrassed that Cameron saw her changing, but I'm guessing she specifically changed into that outfit to arouse Ferris, and the two of them--Ferris and Sloane--are enjoying the hot tub together with catatonic Cameron in a chair on a diving board, because, you know, that's a safe place to put your best friend who's out of it while you make out nearby.

The chair on the diving board is still a stupid place to put your catatonic friend but if this is somehow Cameron's house, that would explain why no one's got a bathing suit. As for the diving board thing...

We know Ferris is a bit of an asshole and clearly quite selfish. Some people don't like this movie because Ferris is such a selfish jerk, and I get that. But, I figure we cannot and should not have only morally upstanding people as our protagonists. Nor must our protagonists be nice wholesome middle-class folk.

And, there is some classist... something going on in this film. I mean, Ferris, Cameron and Sloane are not just taking the day off of school but taking the day off from the whole capitalist system, or the exact opposite, celebrating it, spending money right and left (seriously, check out Ferris' wad of cash

which he uses to pay off the garage attendant, which he uses to pay for lunch--though they manipulate their way into Chez Quis, they do not dine and dash--which he uses to pay for Cubs tickets, for museum passes (unless getting into the Chicago Art Institute was free at the time), for paying off taxis, for whatever incidentals came up along the way--their food at the baseball game, for example.

(Speaking of the baseball game, I just noticed something. I think Sloane is doing homework


while Ferris and Cameron are enjoying the game.)

Ferris may just save his allowance or whatever, or maybe he deals drugs at school and that's why everybody knows him, but I'm not buying it. Of course, he does associate with people classy (or not) enough to send him a prostitute to help him feel better--that "nurse who likes to--"

(Supposedly, in a cut scene, Ferris tricks his father into mentioning where some bonds are in the house, which presumably he cashes at least one in and that's the money he's spending.)

Simply put, Ferris has money, Cameron's got money (or Morris Fry does, anyway), and Sloane's probably got money. Conspicuous consumption (or evidence thereof) is all over this movie. The Bueller house has a freakin' intercom at the front door, for Phil Connors' sake.

(Alas, that last phrase is an affectation I have neglected.)

The intercom was fake, by the way, added for the movie.

Anyway, maybe Ferris is being snotty to the waiter at Chez Quis just because the waiter was being snotty to him before, but there is something in that particular scene which evokes class differences. Ferris is playing at a higher class than he really is... sort of. I say "sort of" because Ferris' father has also apparently dined at that same restaurant for lunch that day. Sure, it's a business lunch and he was probably trying to impress his client, but you do business lunches like that often enough, you've got to get accustomed to that certain lifestyle.

On the other hand, Jeanie may have her own car--

(That car was purchased at the same time as Ferris' computer, and both would have cost a bit of money. Plus, Katie Bueller says she was going to use the commission from the house sale she didn't get to make on the day in the film to buy Ferris a car.)

--but she doesn't seem stuck in some upper- or middle-class lifestyle. Hell, she makes out with that drug -dealing? -using? guy at the police station a matter of minutes after meeting him. Maybe it's teenage rebellion, maybe she just doesn't see him as that much beneath her.

You know, before I end today's entry, I must admit, there's a chance Sloane's family is entirely poor... by mid-80s America standards. Which would still be pretty good. And maybe, that's why she is doing homework when they're at the Cubs game--she can't afford to do badly at school because she needs good grades to get into a good college and earn some scholarships.

I will leave you with one last thought today--a question: how the hell did Ferris and Sloane even manage to put Cameron on that diving board? I mean, seriously, how?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

make this one count

So, Invaders from Mars... cheesy mid-80s fun, not as funny or scary as it should have been. Weird thing was, it reminded me a whole lot of Spielberg's Super 8, the kid POV, the aliens in the tunnels, copper being important in the end even reminded me of the Super 8 aliens taking all the metal at the end of that film. It made me think of the conspiracy theory about Stanley Kubrick using The Shining to reveal that he faked the moon landing or how Harold Ramis used Groundhog Day to reveal that he actually made The Shining. Invaders from Mars reminded me so much of Super 8--well, minus that meta first act--that I had to doublecheck on whether or not a theory I've heard was that Spielberg actually directed Poltergeist and not Tobe Hooper or vice versa. For the record, Tobe Hooper has the director's credit, Spielberg the writer's credit on Poltergeist but then here's this "Tobe Hooper" film that is echoed quite thoroughly in Super 8 three decades later...

I am by the way, watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off again, today. I haven't abruptly switched films. But, I had to watch Invaders from Mars, as anyone who read yesterday's entry would know, because I discovered that I had never seen it. And, sometimes it comes down to that. Some movie with a particular actor in it or a particular filmmaker behind it that I bypassed for whatever reason shows up on my radar and I just must seek it out and watch it. And, right now I've got the benefit of the winter quarter having just ended and a bit of spring break on the horizon so I have time to catch up on some TV and some movies.

In the meantime, there is actually a link between Invaders from Mars and Ferris Bueller's Day Off; adults--they just don't get us... you... not that I suspect my readership of being teenagers, but my point is that in 1980s high school-centered movies, the adults are just not getting along with the teenagers. Usually they are irrelevant to the tale, sometimes they are the antagonists. In Invaders from Mars, young David is the only one who sees the aliens arrive, his parents who he actually gets along with in the opening scenes become the first body-snatcher-like victims of the aliens and he's left on his own until the school nurse believes him about what's going on.

Ebert tells us a key detail to this film, to most any John Hughes movie in the 80s, and all (high) school movies pretty much ever: "adults are strange, distant creatures who love their teenagers, but fail completely to understand them." Hell, in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, except for Mr. Hand, adults are all but absent. In Porky's, adults are the enemy or they join in the fun. Ferris Bueller's Day Off falls closer to the latter in how it deals with adult characters. They are all basically the enemy--boring teachers, paranoid principals, and parents.

There's one obvious reason for this setup and one not-so-obvious reason. First, the obvious, and I believe I argued this recently, probably more than once in the last couple weeks--teenagers think they know everything and they don't need adults around. Adults are just around to put rules upon them, to make demands, to yell and complain. Adults are useless appendages... unless they've got some cash and we want to go out.

(Pronouns are going to be a little weird--I am far from being a teenager, but "we" just fit that sentence. Just roll with it.)

Teenagers want to be able to do the kind of stuff Ferris and Cameron and Sloane are doing, skip out on school and just have a day of fun... Well, actually, real teenagers would probably just sleep in late like Spicoli, throw a snorkel at whoever comes to wake them, and waste away the day. Then, night's the time to go out, hang out at the mall like Damone, get up to no good like the Angel Beach boys, or just do, you know, whatever. But, watching this movie when I was 10, I certainly fantasized about "borrowing" someone's Ferrari for a day. Of course, I think I'd be driving it around town for hours like the parking attendants, rather than just using it to get into and out of Chicago... actually, since I live in Los Angeles, driving it to Chicago could be kinda fun, nice open highway with the top down. That is why Jesus invented the wheel.

Where was I?

Oh, the not-so-obvious reason--a theory of mine. I figure it works as a reverse of reality. In reality, adolescents are the confusing, overly-dramatic ones, with all their hormones out of whack. They may think they know what's going on in life, but damn it if they are not just making it up as they go and flailing about in the chaos of the universe with no sense of control. In the teen-centric movies, though, it is the adults who are clueless, with no real sense of control. Even Mr. Hand showing up at Spicoli's house is actually Mr. Hand's nicest moment. He may delay Spicoli's arrival at the dance, but it goes so nicely that it's hardly an example of Mr. Hand being the dictator he seems to try to be in the classroom.

My point is when the movie belongs to the teens, the roles are reversed; teenagers are the ones exercising agency, adults are oblivious, irrelevant...

...unless they happen to be the villains. And, that's reality jumping back in. Who is that wants to keep teenagers in line? Wants to keep them attending school every day, wants them to get a job at the mall rather than loiter there? Adults. Parents. Teachers. The enemy.

Of the Seurat painting which fixates Cameron at the end of the museum sequence, John Hughes once said--and I don't know the original source:

I always thought this painting was sort of like making a movie, a pointillist style, which at very very close to it, you don't have any idea what you've made until you step back from it...

That's the thing with teenagers... Hughes continues:

The closer [Cameron] looks at the child [in the painting], the less he sees... the more he looks at it, there's nothing there. I think he fears that the more you look at him the less you see. There isn't anything there. That's him.

First of all, I love that Hughes only "thinks" that is what Cameron fears. He wrote the damn thing, he created Cameron Fry, but he still doesn't know what Cameron fears, not precisely. As a writer of fiction--in the past; haven't had time for much fiction lately--I must say, the moments when characters grow beyond you, when they surprise you... those moments are awesome. Similarly, as a parent, the moments when my kids demonstrate that they have grown beyond me or their mother, the moments that they surprised me... those are some of the greatest moments of my life. Same works with my students, but to a far lesser degree.

But, second, I've got to say, looking closely at any image, any reflection we see of ourselves, we inevitably must get lost in the details. Details are supposed to be loved, cherished, celebrated.

"That's Alice. She came over from Ireland as a baby. She's lived in Erie most of her life."

Don't get bogged down, don't get lost, don't make yourself (literally) sick over shit you cannot control. Whether you are a teenager and you think you know everything or you are an adult and you think you know everything, a) get over yourself and b) enjoy the details, enjoy the big picture, and c) really, don't live life like you have enemies. Life is too short... and too long to bother with that sort of thing.

One final note: in watching this film, we might get bogged down in the details, in blogging about it, I run the risk for sure. But, then I just move on to other things when the screening and/or the blog entry is done. Life keeps going beyond the details.

Friday, March 20, 2015

a little more time dealing with yourself

“Here is one of the most innocent movies in a long time, a sweet, warm-hearted comedy about a teenager who skips school so he can help his best friend win some self-respect.” (Ebert, 1986, June 11)

“But that the film doesn’t live up to our anticipation of a rollicking good time is only part of its disappointment.” (Siskel, 1986, June 11)

“That was awesome.” (Me, probably... circa June 15 (the Sunday after Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out))

I say “probably” because, obviously I did not record my response to the film and I certainly wasn’t blogging back then. But, hell if this movie didn’t live up to my anticipation. I say “circa” because, I am not actually sure when that weekend we saw the film, but it was most likely Sunday afternoon...

Also in theaters that weekend:

#1 for the weekend was Back to School but I wouldn’t see that until sometime later at the Academy second run theater. Ferris Bueller was #2. Top Gun (click 1 2 3 4 5 6 for more on that film) was still at #3 in its fifth weekend. Cobra—which I would not see until it was cable, I’m pretty sure—was #4 in its 4th weekend. Raw Deal—which I saw at some point in the theater, maybe its first weekend a week earlier—was #5...

Which brings me to a weird sidenote: why did we see Raw Deal in the theater but not Cobra? We saw Rambo and Rocky IV in the theater the year before (and, I’d seen the previous Rocky films (Rocky III in the theater) and First Blood, so it wasn’t that my parents had anything against Sylvester Stallone. Hadn’t seen any other Schwarzenegger films in the theater yet... unless that vague memory of one of the Conan films at a drive in is real... Hell, did we even see Raw Deal in the theater? I mean, by the time Predator and The Running Man came out in ‘87, I was certainly familiar with Schwarzenegger, had seen both Conan films and Red Sonja, The Terminator, The Villain, and even Hercules in New York. So many movies, things blur together a little bit. Maybe I didn’t see Raw Deal in the theater, maybe I did see Cobra. At a certain point, memory starts to go, and movies and theater-going experiences blend together, but...

I remember seeing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. We were at the Pacific Theater in Hastings Ranch, I’m fairly sure. I remember the credits rolling, Rooney getting in the schoolbus and Ferris Bueller talks to the audience, and the fourth wall-breaking son of a bitch amused me a whole lot.

First, let’s finish off the top ten box office. Poltergeist II: The Other Side—saw it later on TV. Short Circuit—same. Space Camp—same... or maybe that one was a video rental from Wherehouse. The Manhattan Project—don’t remember, probably saw it first on television. Finally, #10 was Invaders from Mars... which I’m not sure I ever saw.

A Tobe Hooper film, with Dan O’Bannon writing (with Don Jakoby), about aliens invading... And. I. Never. Saw. It. What is this world coming to? It what did it fail to come to back in 1986 when I didn’t see Invaders from Mars?

I’ll see about watching it tomorrow.

In the meantime, I was talking about something else.

Oh yes, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

First of all, yeah, I loved this movie and Siskel is just wrong. Or he expected far too much from this film just because John Hughes was involved. Ebert calls John Hughes “the philosopher of adolescence” but he likes the movie. Siskel seems to have expected something... bigger, deeper. Not that there isn’t depth to this film. Siskel says the film “doesn’t seem to know what it’s about until the end” but Ferris tells us what the film is about right at the start: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Actually, Siskel explains this; “In the beginning,” he writes, “young Ferris (Matthew Broderick) looks directly into the camera and delivers his philosophy of life, which he uses to explain why he has ditched school nine times this year and is about to go for No. 10.” So, Siskel gets that it’s Ferris’ philosophy but misses that it’s the entire point of a) Ferris dragging Cameron along and b) the entire damn movie.

Siskel also complains about it taking too long to get to the city. “It must be a fully half hour,” he complains, “before Ferris and his friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) set off from the North Shore for a would-be wild day downtown.” Yes, it’s called Act One. The city ventures fit quite neatly into Act Two, nestled neatly between Ferrari trips. And, Act Three takes place back in the suburbs. It’s not rocket science, it’s film structure 101, and a film critic should get that. I mean, I can understand if he doesn’t like it, but he seems to just not understand it.

He also calls the “main event” of Act Three “lackluster” so really he just doesn’t care for the film much at all. Personally, seeing Cameron transform over the course of the film from someone quite obviously psychosomatically ill because he’s so uptight and afraid to someone practically begging for a fight with his father is a rather impressive storyline considering we actually only get the backstory and the transformation from Ruck’s performance.

Finally, Siskel does come to something good, though he sees it as too little, too late:

At the end of the picture we get the message that Ferris may have an altruistic motive for ditching. It may be that he really sees himself as the class Pied Piper [I stole that phrase yesterday], setting an example of free-living spirit for his uptight friends, who have typical rotten parents.

If this element of Ferris as teacher had been scattered more frequently throughout the movie, it would be a better film. The picture should be re-edited.

No, Siskel, it should not. We can see Ferris’ example throughout Act Two and we get a pretty good idea of it in Act One. By the time Act Three comes around, we’re so invested in the fun of all of this, we’re dying for a message even if we don’t realize it and we’ve already taken in that message even if we didn’t notice it so much when Ferris first told it to us over an hour ago. The message is simple: live your fucking life, be yourself, have some self respect and do what makes you happy.

(The kind of message Phil Connors could probably get behind.)

I mean, just look at the end of the art museum sequence. Ferris and Sloane find a dark spot in which to share a nice kiss while Cameron gets lost in the detail of “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” so lost in the detail that he lose the image. The camera moves closer and closer—as we can safely assume Cameron’s attention does—until we cannot make out the image anymore, losing the forest for the trees or whatever that saying is. Cameron is trapped in the details of his life rather than actually living. When Ferris is about to sing “Danke Schoen” he dedicates it “a man who doesn’t think he’s seen anything good today.” Ferris is the wake up call Cameron needs because we can’t all have time loops.

When Cameron claims he’s seen “nothing good” on their day off, Ferris responds: “We’ve seen everything good. We’ve seen the whole city. We went to a museum. We saw priceless works of art. We ate pancreas.” He doesn’t get to mention the chaos of the stock exchange or the fun of the baseball game because his father happens to be in the car next to theirs. But, Ferris is right. They’ve seen a lot.

Consider, because this entry has gotten wordy and I’m going to cut it off soon: Ferris skips school, along with Sloane and Cameron, they enjoy the day and get away with it—well, who knows exactly what will happen between Cameron and his father, but we are supposed to assume it’s going to end well even if it may be painful along the way. On the other hand, Jeanie also skips school but she does so out of a sense of spite and envy. Even when she is right to call the police because there’s an intruder in her house, she gets punished because her initial motivation in being there is a bad one. The movie offers up a fairly specific moral view on what’s going on: there is nothing wrong with Ferris et al skipping school but there just might be something wrong with Jeanie doing so. It’s all about your motivation.