If you don’t believe John Hughes was a genius, see this film.
Because I didn’t believe.
Though Hughes made one of my favorite 1980s comedies (Planes, Trains and Automobiles), I didn’t really get it.
It being the John Hughes phenomenon.
While the cool kids had it figured out long ago, I was too contrarian to listen.
Now I get it.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles is truly a special film, but Sixteen Candles is transcendent art.
What would André Bazin make of this film? Or Gilles Deleuze? Or Christian Metz?
Well, I care…
But what’s important is what YOU make of it.
And in this case, what I make of it.
But let’s get one thing straight: Molly Ringwald invented the archetype which Thora Birch and Kat Dennings would later appropriate in doubtless homage.
Which is to say, Molly Ringwald is otherworldly as an actress in this film.
It’s no wonder Jean-Luc Godard cast her in his wonderful, underrated, masterful version of King Lear (1987).
Quentin Tarantino famously claimed (à la Bob Dylan’s conflated biography circa-1962) that he was in King Lear, but Molly Ringwald was ACTUALLY in it.
But enough about QT and nix on the digressions.
So no, I am no Henri Langlois to claim that Sixteen Candles should be in MoMA’s permanent collection, but there is good reason to compare this film favorably to Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings of 1939.
But none of this shit really matters.
What matters is the part in Gedde Watanabe’s hair at the dinner table.
And even more so (big time)–> is the indescribable Anthony Michael Hall.
AT&T gets it. Which means the seemingly wonderful Milana Vayntrub ostensibly gets it.
But I’m not sure the understanding flows both ways.
Because America has changed.
We are much closer to the year 1984 (as opposed to Orwell’s 1984) here in late-2016 than to any other period of American experience.
Yeah, Michael Schoeffling could only come from the Reagan era.
But he’s a great guy. And a fine actor.
And Sixteen Candles teaches us a lot of stuff.
John Hughes, as a film philosopher, is precocious in his grasp of American society in the 1980s.
The outcast wins.
But the conservative wins too.
Really, everybody wins.
That’s what value-creation will do.
But let’s back to A.M. Hall. This bloke…
What a performance!
And the real chemistry in this film is between Ringwald and Hall.
In the auto body shop.
And so what do we get?
Romance. Misery. And tons of fucking jokes.
We must congratulate John Hughes as much for his writing as his direction.
The previous year he had written National Lampoon’s Vacation starring Chevy Chase.
Years later he’d write a stellar reboot for the series in Christmas Vacation (also starring Chase).
You want more movies Hughes wrote but didn’t direct? How about Home Alone? [check] Or Pretty in Pink (starring Ringwald)? [check]
But let’s get another thing straight: this was John Hughes’ fucking DIRECTORIAL DEBUT!!!
But none of this shit matters.
What matters is Molly Ringwald crying in the hallway.
What matters is Molly practicing her potential lines before reentering the dance.
Molly talking on the phone with the Squeeze poster on the wall.
Molly freaking out and taking flight over fight.
And immediate regret.
What films do this?
Perhaps in 1955 we would have looked at Rebel Without a Cause in a similar way.
And rightly so.
Sixteen Candles is its progeny of uncertain admixture.
Looking through the yearbook.
And seeing the one.
The one who burns in your heart.
In America, this is realism (couched in slapstick and screwball).
Molly Ringwald is the loser who wins.
And Anthony Michael Hall is the hopeless dweeb who also wins…by sheer force of will.
There are genuine moments of panic in this film (as soft as they might be) regarding missed communication. Telephone calls. House calls.
And it adds just the right touch of anxiety to keep this film catalyzed and moving along.
But what makes all this believable? The supporting cast.
John and Joan Cusack (especially Joan, whose life make’s Ringwald’s look like a bed of roses). And John’s future MIT roommate (it would seem) Darren Harris.
But there’s one of the crew which deserves a little extra credit…and that is music supervisor Jimmy Iovine.
The tunes are right. The attention to detail is solid.
Sound and image merge (as Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller had impressed upon Godard that they should) into sonimage (a word Godard would use for his production company Sonimage).
Even the cassette spitting unspooling tape onto the pizza turntable is perfect.
The cassette? Fear of Music by Talking Heads.
Yes, Brian Eno.
And yes, “Young Americans” as they leave the driveway on the way to the wedding before the famous “au-to-mo-bile” scene.
Even The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra doing Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor…briefly. [which lets our minds drift to Chaplin’s The Great Dictator]
Everything is right sonically.
The band instruments on the school bus.
The Dragnet quotes.
The gongs for Long Duk Dong.
“Lenny” by SRV in the car. Half a car.
It’s so very sweet. And sotto voce. And real.
It’s a mix. It doesn’t intrude. You gotta unlock the passenger door to your heart to let this film in.
And a little Billy Idol as Anthony Michael Hall negotiates a Rolls Royce and a prom queen.
So rest in peace, John Hughes. And thank you for this film.
Et je vous salue, Molly! Merci for the film.
And thank you Anthony Michael Hall for capturing my youth and bottling it up.
Thank you Molly for capturing the one I loved and bottling up all the quirky, quixotic things which I cannot see anymore.
It is the immortality principle of film.
John, Molly, and Anthony…three geniuses of film.
I am profoundly grateful.