The Hughes Letters

At 4:54PM yesterday, I simultaneously got news via text that simply read “Hughes is Dead.” This would have seemed like some cruel joke, but as soon as I realized what I was reading, and from whom, I felt a cold chill go up my spine.

For the last few years, the mutual friend and I had been trading back and fourth e-mails concerning John Hughes, and films based around the North Shore of Chicago for a project I’d been working on.

After yesterday’s sad news, I have decided to publish these e-mails, not only as a tribute to Hughes, but as a document of friends collaborating on ideas, and discussing a place very near and dear to their hearts. The conversation was through both e-mail and text message. Not everything discussed is included here.

Me, June 29th
I have the three other contributors to the ode to Hughes, so if you still want to contribute, I would really love it if you did. The working title is something like “Cusackian Slips: Meditations on the North Shore.”

S, June 29th
I’d still be honored to participate. The other writers, are any Mid-Westerners?

S, July 2nd
You know, I made the mistake of watching St. Elmo’s Fire two nights ago. I’d gone too far: tired out every corner of the 80’s North Shore cinema, and reached for anything that would keep me in the realm. It was a mistake because 1) it’s set in Georgetown, 2) John Bender is the rich, successful one of the group, 3) Rob Lowe puts in one of the worst fucking shots at acting that has ever been tossed at a camera.

I felt so far away from Glencoe and Highland Park.

The saving grace is the funniest Emelio Estevez imaginable: he’s a goddamn knee-slapper in that thing.

S, July 2nd
I don’t know why they don’t film the Harry Potter movies in Glencoe: would be a lot cozier. S.

Me, July 3rd

Hogwarts in Morton Grove. It has a really nice ring to it.

I am still trying to figure out what the 80’s fascination with the North Shore was. There is this feeling of not wanting to grow up – the two only over eighteen major characters I can think of in those films were Clark W. Griswold and Uncle Buck, but they are just overgrown man-children. And of course Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Is there an underlying theme? Is there some sort of cinematic fountain of youth in Evanston? Why did this work so well?

Also, are most Cusack films Hughesian? Say Anything, Better Off Dead, Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity (even tho written by a Brit, it’s set in Chicago, and Rob owns a record store) fall seriously into line with a lot of the themes of Hughes films.

And finally, this.

S, July 6th
You know, it’s almost more important that M.C. was in Uncle Buck. Obviously K.M. is the more important character, and it’s Home Alone for Christ’s sake, but in Uncle Buck he was directed by John Hughes (God) himself; whereas in Home Alone he was being directed by Chris Columbus (not the explorer). I can’t find it on youtube, but the opening of Uncle Buck is, surprisingly, one of the most beautiful Hughes moments: the daughter walks down this autumn North Shore street, it’s grey and depressive, and this interesting flittery piano music plays over it. Then it cuts to this shaky handheld shot of M.C. running between the houses in a big coat and winter hat with his backpack on and that music keeps playing. It’s really affecting actually.

By the way, and I can’t find a picture of this online either, but the first shot of She’s Having a Baby is incredible: it’s a sea of autumn trees all with dead leaves shot from just above the canopy. In the middle the top of an old church comes up through the trees, the lake bends off in the far side of the frame, and in the distance you see the vague skyline of Chicago. I’ll try to find a way to take a screen shot from the DVD. I rented it, yeah.

S, July 9th:
This is the most arresting four minutes of Hughes’ career, easily the most arresting four minutes of Kevin Bacon’s career, and further proof that Hughes is not to be regarded solely as a humorous and intelligent keeper of 80’s youth: this puts him close to the category of auteur.

… set in the hospital in Evanston:

Me, July 10th:
From the Wikipedia entry for She’s Having a Baby:

* The film was shot in Winnetka, IL and Evanston, IL.[3] Most John Hughes’s films either take place in Chicago, in the suburbs of Chicago, or are about people going to or coming from Chicago.