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'Whatever mileage we put on, we'll take off'

August 12th, 2009

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I received the unfortunate word that John Hughes had died last week via text from Eric. I was driving up to San Francisco to visit some friends and give an interview to the SF Jewish Week (which should hopefully hit the Internet soon).

I can only think of a few other people I’ve never met who have had more influence on my work or life. And, what’s amazing about Hughes, is it’s pretty much because of one movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” I never saw “The Breakfast Club” or “16 Candles,” which are regarded as his other two classics, until college and grad school, respectively.  But “Ferris” was on instant repeat, from the first time it captured my imagination at a camp movie night in 1988 to every time I stumble upon it on basic cable reruns. Even this article in today’s Washington Post, an essay from a guy who may or may not have been the real-life Ferris, made me smile.

In my own work, look no further than the old Liberal Crap thread “George W. Bush’s Day Off,” for the most obvious influence/homage, or to my dumb pop-culture piece celebrating Bueller’s 20th birthday in 2006. Both of which don’t hold up nearly as well as the movie.

I’ve posted that peice below. John Hughes, thank you.

Ferris Bueller shows little signs of age
By Josh Eiserike
jeiserike@potomacnews.com
Sunday, May 28, 2006

Director John Hughes needs to add four more to his 16 candles: His con artist teen hero Ferris Bueller turns 20 next month.
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” opened June 11, 1986, the last of the Hughes-directed high school flicks. It made $70 million domestically. The movie began with a sickly Ferris (Matthew Broderick) explaining to his concerned parents why he needed to go to school. One wink to his sister, Jeanie (Jennifer Grey), and the audience was in on the joke – Ferris was faking. With girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) in tow, Ferris’ day off was one for the record books: He bested principal and parents, conned his way into a fancy restaurant and commandeered a parade.

“Ferris’ witty, jubilant refusal to take seriously the world beyond high school graduation gave permission for a whole generation to stop and smell the roses,” said Beverly Gray, a film historian living in Hollywood.

As an iconic movie in constant cable reruns, “Ferris” remains Broderick’s defining role and launched Ben Stein’s Hollywood career. Paramount recently released a special edition DVD of the classic movie.

Part Huck Finn, part Br’er Rabbit and whole lot of cool confidence, Ferris Bueller is the culmination of John Hughes’ teenage heroes. He was the only one without any real problems – and boy, could the other kids have used a Ferris in their life. Ferris would have remembered Samantha’s 16th birthday. Not only would he have avoided a Saturday detention, he’d have helped Andy, Brian, Bender, Claire and Allison out as well. Gary and Wyatt would have never needed to build a robot woman – Ferris could have talked any cutie into going to the prom with those nerds.

The movie has aged well. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is not just about teens having fun. Kids today are still drawn to its timeless message of innocent rebellion, teenage carelessness and adventure, even as they deal with increased pressures to get into a good college and pad their resumes. Bueller references continuously appear in popular culture, furthering the case for enshrinement into the classic American film cannon.

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“I’m a Ferris Bueller on a lesser scale,” said Lance Urban, an engineering technician from Woodbridge. “In real world terms, I did the same thing.”

Urban worked as an office aide when he attended Woodbridge High School from 1996 to 2000. This job landed the budding Bueller in the good graces of the administrators – and they never noticed vanishing early dismissal passes.

“My parents never knew,” said Urban, now 23. “I got good grades, so they thought I was perfect.”

It only got worse as he progressed through high school.

“I was cool with the security guards, so when they saw me with a pass, they’d wave me through,” said Urban, adding that often the passes would be weeks old.

Days off were usually confined indoors, but on one occasion Urban and his friends made a potato cannon and shot it off at rival Gar-Field Senior High School.

In those days, Urban wanted to be an instant celebrity, like Ferris. He has come to realize that Ferris lacked responsibility.

“If you ever want to achieve what I want in life, you’re going to have to work for it,” said Urban, who is looking forward to a home and family. “This takes a lot of work. It’s hard to get by in this world.”

David Morales, a junior who attends Woodbridge High School, said he watches the movie every time it comes on television, about three or four times a month.

“That was back when high school was fun,” Morales, 16, said. “It was a lot easier for him to get out and do those things, as opposed to now. If a kid was doing all of that now, he’d be seen as a troublemaker.”

Morales said if he and some friends are having harmless fun at a park after dark, a cop will appear immediately and question the teenagers about drug use. In Ferris’ world, the cops would thank the boys for their civic support of the town’s parks.

“You watch that movie and want one day of complete freedom, but also to get away with it,” said Morales, who has never outright cut school, but will use Ferris’ time-tested techniques of faking sick for a day off.

There aren’t any baseball games or parades for Morales on his sick days. He stays in to catch up on homework and daytime television.

Like many of his friends, Morales will put an assignment off to the last minute, but not as a result of laziness. He balances good grades with a full plate of extra curricular activities, including boxing, fencing and managing a coffee house for the school’s literary magazine. A day off is more of a necessity than a luxury.

“You have to be in APs and have extracurriculars,” said Morales. “Grades and good ACT or SAT scores are not enough. Colleges look at everything.”

In Ferris’ world, the principal and teachers have taken all of the fun out of school. While this may remain true for some students, Ferris was never a bully, just a laid-back, well-loved kid. His mantra of taking life easy might even appeal, to some degree, to some educators or parents who worry about over-extended, over-achieving students.

Bill Brown is the principal at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge. He said students face more pressure today -mostly from parents and colleges – to load up on advanced classes and extracurricular activities, some of which the students don’t really care about in the first place.

“I definitely believe the workload has increased,” said Brown.

Some things, however, never change.

Brown said the school devotes a lot of time to truant students.

“They are masters of coming up with excuses to get out of school,” said Brown.

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It seems Ferris might still have a thing or two to teach kids today about having fun.

“I don’t know if kids today would understand or appreciate the projected danger of not being in school,” said

Anthony Pomes, the chief research editor of “Joe Franklin’s Great Entertainment Trivia” book and a self-professed pop-culture junkie. Besides, Pomes said, Napoleon Dynamite is this decade’s teenage film phenomenon.

“No one would notice if he cut school,” said Pomes.

Both Ferris and Napoleon are reflective of their eras. Ferris is blas? and good-natured, living in a time (and place) of economic prosperity. He gets to drive a Ferrari. Napoleon is a grump, living in a time of war and economic uncertainty. Napoleon has to borrow a bike. Coincidentally, Napoleon’s uncle reminisces about his good days in “’82.”

“Kids today would rather take a day in,” said Gray. Ferris was techno-savvy, but he wouldn’t spend the whole day in front of his computer, which Gray said is an activity of choice for students skipping school today.

She recently released a biography on B-movie auteur Roger Corman and is considering her next book to be about coming of age as depicted in movies from different eras. She said that in today’s movies actors like Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn are direct results of Bueller’s day in Chicago.

But Ferris’ influence doesn’t stop there.

Ferris is referenced in television shows, music and comic books. There was even a short-lived “Ferris Bueller” television show, starring a young Jennifer Aniston as Jeanie Bueller, and the rip-off series “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.” Ben Stein reprised his career-making role as Ferris’ economics teacher in a 2006 DirecTV commercial.

The premise behind the 2002 movie “Van Wilder” was the natural extension of the character, as close to a sequel as there will ever be.

Ari Newman produced “Van Wilder,” a college comedy about a popular seven-year student, who ruled the campus but was afraid to graduate and face “real life.”

“It was Ferris Bueller goes to college,” said Newman, explaining the initial pitch behind the movie. “He stays in school and he loves it.”

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While Ferris got away with it, Broderick didn’t. In some weird twist of Hollywood fate, he played Jim McAllister, the hapless teacher in “Election,” who is bested by obsequious, conniving Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon). It’s hard to watch Broderick in a necktie and classroom.

“It’s kind of ironic he’s used that way, used by someone who is manipulative and female,” said Gray.

Besides, if Ferris were still around today, he wouldn’t be a teacher, let alone dealing with obnoxious students like Flick.

Pomes said he thinks Ferris would sink back into middle-class life, with a twinkle in his eye.

“He seems like a happy soul,” said Pomes.

Gray said she believes Ferris would have become very wealthy, a computer game entrepreneur or another lucrative job that allows him to remain a kid. Urban, who fancied himself a Ferris prot?g? in high school, said that as a fast-talker, Ferris would never go far or learn responsibility.

As a teenager, Ferris was never about responsibility, let alone turning 20. He was simply a kid who wanted to take time to enjoy a nice day in his city with his friends. As he famously said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop

and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

FERRIS BUELLER

Matthew Broderick last appeared as Leo Bloom in Mel Brooks’ Broadway update of “The Producers.” He has several films in production.

CAMERON

Alan Ruck, in a weird twist of fate, followed Broderick as Leo Bloom in “The Producers.” He is slated to appear in the comedy “Kickin it Old Skool” this year.

SLOANE

Mia Sara appeared as Harley Quinn on the DC Comics television show “Birds of Prey.” She last appeared in a 2005 episode of “CSI: NY.”

PRINCIPAL ROONEY

Jeffrey Jones, who played the principal, was accused of hiring a 14- year-old boy to pose for sexually explicit pictures in 2002. He recently appeared in episodes of the television show “Deadwood.”

SISTER JEANIE

Jennifer Grey appears in two movies this year, “Keith” and “Let it Snow.”

ECONOMICS TEACHER

Ben Stein, a former Nixon speechwriter, continues to appear on television shows and continues to write books.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike thinks Ferris Bueller would be the Mayor of Chicago by now. He can be reached at (703) 878-8072.

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