Talking to You about Psychedelic Furs
(Part of my series on Rob Sheffield's Talking to Girls about Duran Duran)
Having neglected to ask you at the end of our discussion on Madonna whether you'd prefer to discuss 80s teen movies or cassingles, I have had to make that choice all by myself. And in a paroxysm of predictability, I picked 80s teen movies. Because I could.
John Hughes's movies were special because they had the sassiest girls, the cattiest boys, the most relatable boy-girl friendships and bumbling parents and big sisters on muscle relaxants. For those of us who were sullen teenagers, it shocked us how he got the details right, especially the music. "I'd rather be making music than movies," he said in 1985," describing himself as a frustrated guitarist. "Pretty in Pink was written to the Psychedelic Furs, Lou Reed and Mott the Hoople. The Breakfast Club was written in my Clash-Elvis Costello period."
That's how we got the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, one of the defining 80s new-wave albums. You could complain that when the Psychedelic Furs did their remake of "Pretty in Pink" for the movie, it was about one-third as good as the original. I would counter that until this movie, girls never listened to the original; once "Pretty in Pink" became a song girls actually liked, it became a totally different song.
There's an idea . . . Do you agree that a song or a movie can become totally different when the audience reacts to it in a different way? Did the post-punk Pretty in Pink change when John Hughes heard in it the inspiration for a coming-of-age Cinderella story? The Psychedelic Furs didn't seem to mind very much. Perhaps they figured that you can never control who likes your stuff or why they like your stuff. And maybe they knew it's because you don't control your stuff to begin with.
Hughes would have seen that from their end, too, after fans wove an entire mythology for Pretty in Pink out of both facts and dreams.
. . . It's amazing how violently people argue over the end of Pretty in Pink. To this day, there's a popular legend that the original version of the movie had Andie choosing Duckie, except it supposedly got changed after test screenings. I'll believe this when I see it--but given that this scene had never shown up anywhere, not even in the DVD outtakes, I'm going to keep believing this "lost original" is a myth that just illustrates how much people love Duckie.
. . . Those final seconds of Pretty in Pink will always be controversial--but they sum up why I will always love John Hughes movies. The sullen teenager inside me needs Duckie to set Molly free, and so the sullen teenager in me will go to his grave defending that final scene . . .
Now, this third movie in the "Molly Trilogy" has never been very meaningful to me. It didn't make my Top 5 John Hughes Movies list because I hadn't even bothered to see it before I wrote that post--and now that I have, it still wouldn't have the honour of edging Sixteen Candles out in a redo. (You'll never guess which one would.) And yet, like Sheffield, I manage to have an embarrassingly strong opinion about the ending. It may not be as intense as my opinion of the time travel paradox in The Terminator nor a hill I'd like to die on . . . but if I ever get sucked into a Team Blaine vs. Team Duckie face-off, I'll give it all that I've got.
So it really salts my popcorn when Hollywood decides to take something that has been meaningful to many people for a long time and to fool around with it in order to make money. Now, that's a pretty slick strategy and I can't really blame them for going for it--but neither am I going to let my emotions be a wave they can surf all the way to the bank. These days, when even a bad review is good publicity, because people will watch something just to see how awful it is, the best response to such a stunt is . . . total silence.
Or if total silence makes you uncomfortable, how about relative quiet, with the original movie's soundtrack playing gently in the background?
But isn't this just one big creation racket? The first stage would be the making of the movie; the second stage would be the making of its mythology, a cultural development that takes on a life of its own; and the third stage would be the making of its franchise, which is culture marrying the economy. (It's a second marriage for culture. Can you guess whom she divorced beforehand?) In this case, the moderate-realist philistine explains, it doesn't actually matter which guy Andie ends up with or who John Connor's real father is. All stories are equal; some are just more economically successful than others. Vote with your money . . . or with your text messages . . . and when you tune in for the results show, remember to use the hashtag on the screen in your livetweet.
(I still prefer total silence.)
While it does look funny that people are willing to go to their graves for fictional characters, what we're really arguing about here is meaning. How does a movie get its meaning? How do we know that that meaning is valid? Can it have more than one meaning? If so, would those meanings fall under a hierarchy? And how would we determine that hierarchy? (This paragraph so far is your clue to the identity of culture's first husband.) Behind every heated dispute over what a movie really means is a shared assumption that meaning can exist outside of our minds . . . that the right answer isn't determined by the winner of a dispute but determines the winner even if he seems to lose . . . that if we all died gloriously in the Battle of Hollywood, this right answer would live on, with its cousins mathematics and virtue.
In a less dramatic nutshell: we can like it all we want, but we can't control it any more than the original creators do. (And perhaps we owe the vandal rebooters our thanks for reminding us of this fact. =P)
So what is this true meaning of Pretty in Pink?
"It has been suggested in some quarters that Duckie is, in fact, the Messiah," Sheffield writes. "The parallels are daunting: Jon Cryer and Jesus Christ? Practically the same name!"
Oh, Rob . . . I'll see your Jon Cryer and raise you John Connor.
Your Turn at the
Image Source: Pretty in Pink poster