I was in 7th grade when "The Breakfast Club" opened in theaters, and I distinctly remember thinking the movie was totally right about everything. I wasn't in high school yet (and that was surely one of movie's allures; a peek in a world I would soon enter), but at 13, I had suddenly become aware of all those weird anxieties, indignities and nuances that define the lives of adolescents, and they were all right there on the screen. Perceived slights as far as the eye can see. Rigid-seeming social circles. Parents who just don't understand. If only people knew the real me.
Shot at Maine North High School in Des Plaines — unused at the time; the building now houses an Illinois State Police headquarters and other tenants — the 1985 John Hughes film kicks off the Siskel's Date with the '80s film series Saturday on a double bill with another Hughes film, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," which was released a year later.
This is an atypical lineup for the Siskel, which tends to stick with non-commercial indies. I asked Martin Rubin, the cinema's associate director of programming, what sparked the '80s focus. "We had previously thought these films weren't quite old enough to be classics," he told me, "but they're recent enough that people have seen them on video or TV countless times." At the urging of staff members, however, "we thought maybe the timeline had moved to the point where these films were now being seen as treasured classics that people might want to see on a big screen."
Upcoming titles on the schedule (through July 4) include two starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (1984's "The Terminator" and 1982's "Conan the Barbarian") and two from Steven Spielberg (1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which he directed, and 1985's "Back to the Future," which he produced). Also: the dance-centric (1984's "Footloose" and 1987's "Dirty Dancing") and the less-than-mainstream (1988's "They Live" from John Carpenter and 1984's "Repo Man" from Alex Cox). Wrapping things up is the 1983 drama about the American space program "The Right Stuff."
The Hughes films, though, hold a particular pride of place in the Chicago area. Hughes went to high school here. He filmed here. And except for a brief four-year period in LA as an adult, he lived here. No matter how many films he made, John Hughes never went Hollywood.
Looking back at "The Breakfast Club" (made for just $1 million), it is impossible not to see it as a prototype for trapped-in-a-box reality shows that would come decades later, from "The Real World" onward.
Except Hughes, who died almost four years ago, was never a cynical filmmaker. In 1999, Premiere magazine ran an oral history of the movie that is engrossing and full of revealing details. Hughes and his wife married young and where closer in age to the teenagers in their suburban neighborhood than the adults, granting him an unique view on high school life in the 80s.
"Sixteen Candles" (1984) was the first film he would both write and direct; "The Breakfast Club" his second. Screenwriters are easily discarded on Hollywood projects and he got into directing as a form of job security. "The Breakfast Club" was written specifically as a movie that wouldn't be difficult to film. Single setting. Small cast. Low budget. It was originally called "Detention." Hughes changed the title after learning from a student at New Trier High School that he and his classmates jokingly referred to morning detention as the Breakfast Club.
According to Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy's outsider role was closer to her own personality than that of the spoiled popular girl she played. (On her new jazz album "Except Sometimes" Ringwald sings a cover version of the film's signature song "Don't You (Forget About Me).") Sheedy said she channeled Sean Penn into her performance. Anthony Michael Hall caught Hughes' eye in "National Lampoon's Vacation," a film adapted from a short story Hughes first wrote for the National Lampoon. Judd Nelson's bad boy was originally cast with Evanston's John Cusack, who was ultimately passed over for not looking menacing enough.
Before shooting began, Hughes sent the cast to gather intel at his alma mater, Glenbrook North, but as with all his other films, the setting was the fictional suburb of Shermer. "Hughes's Shermer was partly Northbrook and partly a composite of all the North Shore's towns and neighborhoods," wrote David Kamp in a 2010 appreciation of Hughes for Vanity Fair, "and, by extension, all the different milieus that existed in American suburbia."
Also in 2010, filmmaker Kevin Smith hosted a special 25th anniversary screening of the film and a panel discussion with four of the cast members, who revealed that former "SCTV" player Rick Moranis "was the janitor for, like, a minute," per Ringwald. "But then he decided he wanted to do the entire thing with a Russian accent and a fur hat." (He was replaced by Second City veteran John Kapelos.)
The wonderfully repellent Paul Gleason (who died in 2006) played the teacher assigned to watch over the teenage detainees — a character based on a gym teacher Hughes detested in high school. Hughes' stage directions in the script include this tidbit: "He addresses the group with such disrespect it makes you wonder how he ever got the job."
It is a film remembered for its quotable lines (a shooting draft of the script is posted online) — some clever, some slangy, some devastatingly true to teenage insecurities: "You don't even count. I mean, if you disappeared forever it wouldn't make any difference. You may as well not even exist at this school."
Hughes he took a pay cut in exchange for creative control, not that the studio was completely on board. There was no sex. No action. Just a bunch of kids sitting around, talking.
"This is not a movie that is going to go over great in the screening room with senior executives," producer Ned Tanen said in the Premiere interview, an ironic observation as Tanen himself was a studio exec. "All they're thinking is, Jesus Christ, these a--holes are probably my kids! They thought it was unreleasable." It ended up making nearly $46 million at the box office (close to $100 million in today's dollars)
"When that movie came to an end, I was heartbroken," Hughes told the magazine. "We did Judd walking off into the distance, and he just kept walking. I got into my car and drove away."
"The Breakfast Club" screens Saturday and Thursday as part of the Siskel's Date with the '80s film series. Go to siskelfilmcenter.org/80s.
Paul Sorvino ("Goodfellas") stars in the indie murder mystery "Precious Mettle," which starts filming in the western suburbs next week. Written and directed by Edmond Coisson (founder of the Naperville Film Festival) and produced by DeAnna Cooper ("I Heart Shakey"), the plot centers on Sorvino's police commander who is juggling a murder investigation and a troubled, heroin-addicted daughter. The cast includes Steppenwolf's Yasen Peyankov and former Second City mainstager Andy St. Clair.
"My house, my rules," a father (Minooka's Nick Offerman) informs his teenage son in the indie "Kings of Summer," about a trio of friends who take off into the woods over the summer to build their own house: "No parents, no one tells us what to do," they tell each other. The film, which premiered this year at Sundance, also co-stars Offerman's wife Megan Mullally. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (a Columbia College alumnus) will be at Tuesday's screening, presented by the Midwest Independent Film Festival at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema. Go to midwestfilm.com.
Last year the locally produced web series "Funemployed" had the distinction of being shot in the same city where MTV was also shooting a similarly themed (and titled) show called "Underemployed." The MTV show was neither funny nor especially insightful in its exploration of the lives of 20-somethings in Chicago, struggling both in work and in love — and the ratings reflected that. "Funemployed," however — a legitimately comedic if low-budget project co-created by and starring former Chicago actor Ted Evans — kept on plugging away, regardless. Evans and company will screen their newest episodes Wednesday at the Greenhouse Theater (where much of Season 3 was shot) or you can watch them online at funemployedchicago.com. The newest episodes leave behind the fertile tension between Evans' frustrated Everyman and his dopey roommates (a mistake I think) and instead focus on satirizing the local theater scene. For tickets go to funemployed.eventbrite.com.
The documentary "Hava Nagila (The Movie)" traces the evolution of the traditional Jewish folk song into a cross-cultural wedding staple. The documentary screens Thursday at Spertus, with director Robert Grossman presnt for a post-show discussion. Go to spertus.edu.
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