In the spirit of those insufferable “two types of people” generalisations, here’s a little something I like to use to shamelessly prejudge people. It’s an elaboration on the High Fidelity theory that “it’s what you like, not what you are like”. Sure, you can judge someone on their favourite books or music. Who hasn’t craned their neck on the bus trying to see what the cutie in front of you has on their iPod, or fallen in love momentarily with someone sitting next to you on the plane purely on the basis of a worn copy of The Red Pony tucked in the back pocket of their jeans?
But this theory is a bit more specific to our generation (early 20s to early 30s) and I reckon it’s pretty reliable for making snap decisions about strangers and new acquaintances. I find it’s most accurate when used in social situations that preclude you ever seeing the person you’re judging again. Here’s how it works – ask someone what their favourite movie from the 80s is. If you’re more into dichotomy than chaos, give a multi-choice quiz offering these three options:
This is a very popular one with boys. You can do an innocent reading of this – Top Gun does after all have strong depictions of male friendships, striving for success and hooking-up-with-your-hot-teacher fantasies. It also has a soundtrack that veers from the sublime (Otis Redding) to the ridiculous (Kenny Loggins’ “Playing With The Boys”). Which brings me to the less innocent reading of why boys enjoy Top Gun: latent homosexuality. After all, was it really necessary to do all those scenes shirtless in the locker room? Why was everyone greased up for that gratuitous volleyball scene? And that hot teacher is really rather masculine. Someone who nominates Top Gun as their favourite movie of the 80s loves sports, secretly performs extended air guitar solos with their eyes closed, and has probably snuck a look at their friends in the changeroom and later felt guilty about it.
Girls Just Want To Have Fun
Like the chicken and the egg (although this quandary has a better chance of being answered by wikipedia), I’m not sure whether the Cindi Lauper song of the same name came before this early Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle. It also features a young Helen Hunt, an even younger Shannon Doherty, a fantastic 80s pop soundtrack, lots of leg warmers and, best of all, falling-in-love-through-the-power-of-dance montages. SJP is the permed girl on the cusp of growing up, with the strict military dad and the mad dance skillz. She enters a comp to dance on TV, secretly practicing with a super cute boy and, obvs, they totally love each other. Lacks the acutely-observed adolescent angst, and the heart, of a John Hughes film but it’s an enduring obsession of many girls nonetheless. Someone who nominates Girls Just Want To Have Fun as their favourite 80s movie enjoys shopping, secretly experiments with make-up and then removes it before anyone (least of all their strict dad) can see, and on Friday nights home alone when a dance movie like Centre Stage is on, winds up attempting to plie in the bathroom with the towel rack as a barre.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
This one’s my favourite. A perfectly made film – great casting, kickarse soundtrack, snappy dialogue, heart amid the shenanigans and it's shot like a love letter to Chicago – that even after innumerous infirmary viewings in boarding school remains the go-to flick for a sick day. I’m sure you don’t need a synopsis but I can’t resist recalling some of the great moments in this movie: Ferris’ instructional for faking illness… “do you have a kiss for daddy?”… the dirty nurse telegram… “Abe Froman, the sausage king of Chicago”… that chilly sparkling instrumental version of Please Please Let Me Get What I Want as they roam the art gallery… “when Cameron was in Egypt land... Let my Cameron goooooo”… Sloane looking like a goddess swimming in her slip… Charlie Sheen as the archetypal bad boy… and of course the parade scene. And I never understood how people could love Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing after she was such a heinous bitch as Ferris’ sister.
An intriguing new reading of FBDO, is the Fight Club Theory. IE, that like Tyler Durden in Fight Club, Ferris Bueller is simply an imaginary character that Cameron has invented to live out his wish fulfilment. It’s actually a pretty solid theory and just may blow your mind.
If someone names Ferris as their favourite movie of the 80s you can extrapolate that they have a healthy disregard for authority, an appreciation for simple adventures found in their own backyard, and their daydreams generally end with them lip-synching to the Beatles on a parade float. In theory FBDO is interchangeable with any other films of the Hughes oeuvre – although Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles or Some Kind of Wonderful would indicate a much more romantic soul, and The Breakfast Club someone in more need of therapy.
Well this turned out very long-winded – and there are hundreds of other 80s movies. What’s your favourite? Meantime, I hope to write more about John Hughes another time, but this article from Vanity Fair has some insights into a man I find inspirational as a writer. Just be warned, it’s very long!