Intermission: An Interview With John Hughes (1985)


In a break between posts, I am posting this rare 1985 interview with late director John Hughes (it’s strictly an audio recording). A remarkable master on creating genuine cinematic portraits of teenagers more than anything else (and with just as much humor as sentimental drama), he discusses a little on his professional transition from the advertising world to writing and directing films, gives backstory on casting 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club, and echoes his wariness about studio interference.

Here is part 1 of 5. Links to the other parts of the interview are listed below.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Ethereal Contraband: ‘Better Than Sex’ and ‘In Bed’


*Updated 01/03/10

The titles. The promotional posters. They elicit expectation, hinting promise of the pleasures of the pure mechanics of sex, if only at a grade below pornography; something just erotic enough to avoid wandering behind the symbolic “black curtain”. Things are, somewhat, still left to the imagination, in these films which essentially boil down to strangers hooking up for casual sex.

Viewer reaction to this, is rather interesting at times, depending on the severity of the sexual content, which is usually much stronger in foreign productions, and tend to release without official ratings regarding recommended audience age and maturity.

The Realm of the Senses, released with much controversy in the late 1970s (and is oddly included in the recommendations in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) pushed the envelope considerably with unsimulated graphic imagery of things like fellatio and erections. Though probably not quite as envelope pushing anymore, what with the accessibility of the multi-billion dollar porn industry, especially in the form of amateur content circulated on-line, The Realm of the Senses was fictional account of a 1930s incident that involved a prostitute named Sada Abe (click the link if you don’t mind film spoilers). It was this context that lead to considerable debate as to whether the film could be fairly labeled art house, or whether it was just “glorified porn”, as though the distinction made any difference to anyone who wanted to see it. It’s clear within minutes of the opening scene exactly what is in store for the viewer. Viewers intimated an identical debate with director Michael Winterbottom’s 2004 film, 9 Songs. The nine songs refer to the live indie rock performances (featuring the Von Bondies and Franz Ferdinand, among others!) that provide the transitions to a story about a young British man’s fling with a young American girl. Nearly the entire film, save the concert footage and brief interjections about the man’s work in the Arctic, contain some form of unsimulated sex. What difference does it make to debate content labels? Again, within minutes of the film’s beginning, there are no surprises about what is in store for the viewer.

Other films, like the Australian production, Better Than Sex and and its Chilean counterpart, In Bed, push aside this intense mechanical approach as it addresses the topic of casual sex, doing so in a manner that fuses the pure and not-very-erotic mechanics with intelligent discussion, one free of timidity and self-conscious giggling.

A Netflix viewer’s review of Better Than Sex, suggested that the film captures an “evolution in relationships”, a conclusion that seems to support the tow-line observation that younger generations have scoffed traditional commitment, existing comfortably instead in the limbo between physical satisfaction and the avoidance of emotional attachment. But this is nothing new, really. Perhaps we’re too conditioned by American films, which have taught us that a happy ending means not only acceptance of commitment, but also monogamy, and more specifically with an extremely compatible lover.

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With a Hall Pass in Hand: American Teen


American Teen was immediately criticized as it began generating attention at Sundance in 2008. The original promotional material featured the five teenagers at the heart of Nanette Burstein’s documentary in poses and costume nearly identical to those in the Breakfast Club. The previews even pre-defined their roles: The Geek, The Princess, The Jock, The Hearthrob and The Rebel, arousing suspicions that this reduced these people’s stories to palatable, packaged frames, symbolic of a disingenuous adult view of teenage life.

Generally, film-goers tend to hold documentarians to a level of scrutiny that assumes them to be objective observers of their subject. This is not a pure documentary in that sense, and in fact it might be better described as a pop documentary. The filmmaker’s placement does shape environment, and in all stages of production, there are deliberate choices of what to focus on. And for Burstein, it is the concept of the modern American teenager.

Early on, there were criticisms about lacking authenticity in a different regard. Namely, the noticeable lack of variety in the town’s residents, making a film who’s sociological importance could only be generalized to middle-class white American suburbia. In American Teen, there is only one non-white high school school student featured. And every other seemingly “taboo” subject from homosexuality to promiscuous sex to divorce is muted. The sprinkling of teenage drama in the briskly edited montage that made up the trailers suggested a “documentary” that sanitized taboo realities, only to fill the gap with sexier sensationalism.

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