Actors Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, and Judd Nelson.


AS AN ACTUAL ALUMNUS of the highschool class of 1984, I approached last Monday night’s twenty-fifth-anniversary screening of John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club at Lincoln Center with the wrenching mixture of anticipation and trepidation peculiar to high school reunions. Now that the 1980s have equaled (if not surpassed) the pop-cultural longevity that the ’60s and ’70s once enjoyed with generations too young to have experienced them firsthand, this Hughes tribute seemed a bit behind the curve, even by the standards of nostalgia. But you only get to be twenty-five once, and since four of the five principal cast members would be speaking on a panel afterward, I tried to open my heart to a decade that had felt like an utter rip-off as it was happening. During the early ’90s, I had assumed that asymmetrical haircuts, leg warmers, extreme shoulder pads, and blazers with rolled-up sleeves would remain immune to ironic appropriation, having been recognizably ridiculous in their own era. Oh, how wrong I was.

As if to rub it in, the loudly enthusiastic full-house audience seemed composed of as many twentysomethings as fortysomethings, and when the lights went down and the synth-drum intro of Simple Minds’s “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” kicked in, I felt like I was at a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Each actor’s name during the credit sequence generated a rapturous roar, and I fully expected people to be calling out the characters’ lines before they were spoken. Needless to say, the film was well received. And, to be fair, it remains an endearing movie. Along with Sixteen Candles, it set the template for the Hughes corpus, a series of films that, in their thematic and tonal consistency, are as supportive of the auteur theory as those of Capra, Hitchcock, and Welles.

After the screening, four directors’ chairs were placed onstage and video crews rushed in from the back. Filmmaker Kevin Smith, he of the one airplane seat per butt cheek, took the podium, stage right, in a XXXL Islanders jersey. Smith is a big Hughes fan. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long fucking time,” he bellowed. “I had to decide how much pot I was going to smoke beforehand.” He mentioned that his next film had been scheduled to start shooting that day, but he forced his production company to postpone so he could moderate the panel. Hughes invented his own world—a “Hughesiverse”— that “gave us something to do in the ’80s” and inspired Smith to become a director, he said. Before welcoming the cast members, he wanted to “correct a misnomer” from a certain sequence in the film: “When you smoke weed, you don’t dance.”

Then, to deafening applause, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, and Judd Nelson ascended to the stage. Ringwald and Sheedy wore short black dresses and clearly had spent some time at the hair salon. Hall and Nelson wore suits. In a startling reversal of their physical presences on-screen, Hall is now nearly twice Nelson’s size. Riffing on the absent fifth breakfast clubber, Smith asked, “What was Emilio like before he died?” “He may be working on Mighty Ducks 5,” Hall replied. Addressing Hall, Smith asked, “Did you have pubes when you shot this?” “It was part of my ‘puberty on film’ trilogy,” Hall quipped, “completed by Weird Science.”

After some somber, grateful reminiscence about Hughes (who died of a heart attack last year, age fifty-nine), Smith asked Hughes’s widow Nancy and two grown sons to stand, to warm applause. The whole cast agreed that working with Hughes at the beginning of their careers spoiled them for other directors. “He let actors try anything,” Nelson said. “I thought all movies would be made that way.” Hughes “didn’t seem like an adult,” said Ringwald, who was sixteen during the shoot. “It was like he was one of us.” Hughes rehearsed the actors extensively, allowed for a lot of improvisation (e.g., “elephantiasis of the nuts”), and stayed close to the camera while rolling, preserving intimacy with the actors as they worked.

All concurred that sound track music was never an afterthought for Hughes; he played music constantly as he wrote and regularly gave mix tapes to his actors. “He’d give you a tape and say, ‘Listen to this,’” Nelson recalled, “and I’d always be better for it.” Nelson also mentioned that there was a much longer cut of the movie (a “Breakfast Alexanderplatz”) that may exist only on VHS in Nancy’s attic. He didn’t think there’d be a sequel, Nelson said, but he had thought the actors would work together again in another capacity: The finished film “felt like ‘half.’ ”

Ringwald said she is often surprised by younger people telling her that the movie perfectly captures their own generation, leading Smith to ask, “Do you realize there are people here who were cum when you made this film?” Staying below the belt, Smith point-blanked Ringwald, “Was that really your crotch in that under-the-table shot?” “No,” she answered, mildly annoyed, “that was my stand-in.” “Then who have I been masturbating to all these years?” he roared.

“As we spin faster in this toilet of a world,” Nelson implored near the end of the Q&A, “it’s important to recognize what we have in common. The Breakfast Club expresses that theme well.” Tru dat. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to have kids of all ages watching The Breakfast Club in these fractious times. It would sure beat revisiting the speeches Ronald Reagan was making at the time of the film’s release.

Andrew Hultkrans