Film

You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried, by Susannah Gora

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

This book is part cultural analysis of ‘80s youth films, part trivia, and whole bunch walk down memory lane.

As if the title doesn’t give enough away, the promotional materials for Susannah Gora’s compulsively readable You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation includes a tease that defines exactly the book’s audience: “Because You Can Quote Lines from Sixteen Candles, Your iPod Playlist Includes More Than One Song by The Psychedelic Furs and Simple Minds, and You Still Wish Andie Had Ended Up with Duckie in Pretty in Pink”.

I’m proudly guilty of one and three, and no one was more surprised than I was to learn that I only have one song by either the Psychedelic Furs or Simple Minds on my iPod (“Pretty in Pink”, from the soundtrack). In my defense, however, the first song I tried to buy when I got an iTunes account was “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”. At the time it was unavailable. Still, I mean... it was the very first song I looked up. That has to count for something.

In any case, there are a number of other tells I could add to that spot-on promotional blurb, but the best may be this: If you understand the book’s title without having to read past the colon, then this book is for you. Kf you add the “Sweets” to the beginning of the line, then a purchase should be in your future. For those of us who can name the original MTV VJs, who know that the Thompson Twins don’t share a surname and aren’t really twins, and who once pegged their pants, this book falls somewhere between required reading and a damn good time. It’s closer to a damn good time, but that’s OK. The movies were, too.

Gora has an impressive background as a contributor to pop-cultural criticism (she’s a former Associate Editor for Premiere magazine). Her first of many good moves here is that she smartly pares down her subject matter. This is not an encyclopedic survey of ‘80s youth films. She convincingly prunes away the likes of Fast Times at Ridgement High (1982) and even the Hughes-penned Weird Science (1985), the former on the grounds that it really belongs to the ‘70s and the latter on account of having “virtually no cultural resonances”.

What remains is a series of tight essays on, for my money, the right batch of movies: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful, and, the surprise of the bunch, Say Anything. Interspersed throughout these movie-specific chapters are more general essays on topics such as John Hughes’ upbringing, the role of music in these films, and the impact of the infamous New York magazine article that coined the term “Brat Pack”. The result is a work that’s part cultural analysis, part trivia, and whole bunch walk down memory lane.

The structure of the movie-specific chapters relies on the same formula throughout: Introduce the broad overview of how the movie fits in the sequence of ‘80s youth films; examine the nuances of the casting, with special attention to the actors who did not get the part (what if Rick Moranis had been allowed to yuck it up in the role of Carl the Janitor in The Breakfast Club?); relate noteworthy on-set stories, complete with relevant pranks, tensions, and romances; then sum it all up with two pages on how the movie was received and what it all meant for the careers of the actors and the lives of the audience.

Formulaic or not, what Gora does within these confines is impressive.

Gora has clearly put in her time re-watching the movies (with all the accoutrements that the Special Features of the DVDs allow). She has also done her homework at the library, sifting through the relevant clippings and reviews. However, there are 42 candles on Sam’s cake now, and Gora knows that the real story isn’t how the movies were received then, but, rather, it’s how they are perceived now. Her great coup is that she got the principal players to talk about just that.

The book’s most important sentence may be the short paragraph that precedes the Notes section of the appendix: “All the quotations used in this book are from the author’s own original interviews, except for the following, unless otherwise noted in the text”. The 11 pages of notes that follow pale in comparison to the four-page list of interviewees that appears in the Acknowledgements. The list is exhaustive enough that it’s easier to mention the notable absences: Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, and John Hughes, himself.

Sure, Hughes would have been a heckuva catch, all the more so because he died before the book was completed, but it’s hard to complain when pretty much everyone else is here: Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Matthew Broderick, Jennifer Grey, Andrew McCarthy, Rob Lowe, Eric Stoltz, John Cusack, Ally Sheedy, and Jon Cryer, to name but a few of the stars, supporting cast, and filmmakers who Gora interviewed for the book. Add Prince and that girl from Missing Persons, and Gora has assembled my dream birthday party when I was 14.

These sit-downs never serve her better than they do in the chapter about Pretty in Pink, “Sitting Pretty”. (In general, the chapter titles are quite clever -- “I Love Ferris in the Springtime” or “Pack to the Future” -- so don’t hold this one against her too much.) For those who don’t know the backstory, the original version of Pretty in Pink included Duckie winning the girl, but the test audiences resisted it so much that the filmmakers hastily called everyone back and re-shot what would become the ending that we all know (if we don’t all love).

The problem, as Gora tells it (and as people like Andrew McCarthy confirm), is that there was simply no chemistry between Ringwald and Cryer. By the time Pretty in Pink rolled around, Ringwald had considerable pull with the casting decisions, and she handpicked McCarthy. Cryer, however, was chosen by Howard Deutch, the director who had an on-again/off-again relationship with Hughes. Ringwald and Cryer simply never clicked, perhaps because in her mind he was a poor substitute for her top choice: Robert Downey, Jnr. To be sure, that would have been a completely different dynamic.

“There was no way, really, that anybody wanted me to end up with Duckie. They just didn’t seem vaguely romantic together at all," says Ringwald in her interview with Gora. She continues, “Actually... I think he seemed gay. I mean, if they remade the movie now, he would be, like, the gay friend who comes out at the end. He wouldn’t be winking at a blonde [Kristy Swanson], he would be winking at a cute guy.” Ringwald does go on to praise Cryer’s performance, but to say that everything was ducky, as it were, is to bury the lead. For his part, Cryer maintains that Ringwald was so sick when they shot the original ending that it never really had a chance.

Next Page
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.