Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day 84: Bueller.....Bueller.....anyone.....anyone?

I saw Matthew Broderick on that television show ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ the other day, it’s the show where they take a celebrity and take them back though as-yet unknown branches of their family tree. I’m not a regular viewer of the programme, I just happened to be channel surfing and suddenly happened upon a scene that didn’t make sense to me “why are they walking Ferris Bueller around a war cemetery in northern France?”.

I’m sorry Matthew, Mr.Broderick, but however you age, whatever else you are great in - Election, Glory, The Producers, even being Mr Carrie Bradshaw - you’ll always be Ferris to me. I remember 1986 and you telling me that “life goes by so fast that sometimes I have to stop and smell the coffee”, I vividly recall your beautiful girlfriend Sloane (I never see Mia Sara in anything these days?) and I just loved the fact that everyone loved you.

John Hughes, the creator of Ferris, described his character as a “dynamic winner”, but he was different to the untouchable, unapproachable school “winners” that I knew of....that’s why I l liked Ferris: cool but not cold.

A few Christmases ago, I bought a friend a “Save Ferris” t-shirt which said friend used to wear jogging. My friend told me of at least one person who stooped her and asked who Ferris was? I hope she slapped that person. Wittgenstein, Camus, Descartes, Socrates....take all the great philosophical minds you like, but every decade or so, a thinker for our age is thrown up; it was Ferris Bueller in the 80’s, Cosmo Kramer in the 90’s (if you’re going to ask who he is, prepare to be slapped).

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a movie from that tried and tested stable of American movies, ‘the high school film’; not really a genre or sub-genre as such, more a fertile filmmaking ground that has yielded much: American Graffiti, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Grease, The Virgin Suicides and then, most recently, something a little different, a high school movie born perhaps in a bastard Columbine bed.....I talk of Gus Van Sandt’s Elephant.

Gus Van Sandt’s filmic essay on automatic weapons and US High Schools, this, sometimes languid meditation, on what now seems to be a tragic and repetitive occurrence on campus, won the Palme D’or at Cannes just a few years back. High School business has been a staple diet at the American filmmaker’s table but how did we get from bobby-soxers and Sandra Dee to here? Perhaps Ferris Bueller may have had a hand in it?

The late John Hughes, in the early part of his career, was the writer and director of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Plains Trains & Automobiles and The Breakfast Club. Like Elephant - only twenty years beforehand - there was a contemplative feel to this seminal film (The Breakfast Club) about high school. Hughes introduced the slow-cooking, observational style of comedy that we had yet to see in popular, mainstream filmmaking; it’s also in Planes Trains and in Ferris Bueller. Many years on, Gus Van Sand cooked from the same recipe but there is little to be had in the way of laughs in his mix; Elephant is a chilling poem of serious reflection for any student of life amongst the young people in the USA today, asking that we consider the elephant in the room that everyone seems to want to ignore (I’ll leave you to ponder on what you think that might be).

Day #84 Tip: Refreshing genres
Much about genres has been said, in the early days of my ramblings, about mixing genres and the high-school movie is no exception: Grease adds the genre of the musical to the brew, American Pie has created a filmic franchise of blending the ‘gross-out’ comedy with the high-school movie. Friday Night Lights introduces the sports genre to the mix and so the list goes on.

I think Elephant is an extraordinary film-watching experience and it reinvigorated a sort-of genre (not that that was it’s intention) with a relevance and rhyme that obviously caught other filmmakers’ attentions as I now see Gus Van Sandt’s style plagiarised again and again in the cinema and on tv. You’ll have to get the film out and watch it to know what I mean. And, whilst you’re at the DVD store, grab yourself the companion piece that comes in the form of the French film that won the same Palme D’or in 2008, The Class.

I’m certainly not one to be bedazzled or bamboozled by awards, but in this film - set in the sometimes claustrophobic, often expansive, classroom of an interracial, multi-ethnic high school classroom in Paris’s thirteenth arrondissement - watch how the baton of this “genre” is passed from one filmmaker to another (no stylistic theft this time) and have your breath taken away at how just one small word can change everything...and I mean everything.

Consider the one day at school that is Elephant as you think mull over a final word from the man who revitalised the high-school film, John Hughes: “At that age, every day has the potential to be the worst day ever, or the the day Ferris spends playing hooky.”

No comments:

Post a Comment