I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City by United Artists Against Apartheid
by Robert Mishou
I caught this video Frankfurt, Germany one night while I was waiting for a live football game to begin. American Forces Network (AFN) was the only TV station Americans living overseas in the ‘80s had to watch. We got one football game every week and when there was a delay in picking up the satellite feed, AFN filled the time with music videos. This one caught my eye because, like USA for Africa’s “We Are the World”, I wanted to identify all of the artists. This song has vocals from, to name a few, Run DMC, Hall and Oates, Kool Moe Dee, Kurtis Blow, Lou Reed, Pat Benatar, Bono, and Bruce Springsteen. The song was used to raise money to fight Apartheid in South Africa. In short, Apartheid was legal racism against the native South Africans endorsed and practiced by the white Europeans who ran the country. It was during this time that Nelson Mandela was kept in prison for trying to end the horrific policies of Apartheid. Sun City was a luxury resort and casino that was visited by celebrities from around the world. It gave a major, consistent boost the South Africa’s economy, so it was seen by those who felt apartheid was a violation of human rights as to hurt the South African government and put pressure on them to end Apartheid. The lyrics are pure protest:
Relocation to phony homelands
Separation of families
I can’t understand
23 million can’t vote
Because they’re black
We’re stabbing our brothers
And sisters in the back
No, this is not great, earth shattering writing, but it did help raise awareness in Americans who did not know much of what was happening in South Africa. Side note: if you have any interest in Apartheid in South Africa I recommend two books – Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane (non fiction) and The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (fiction).
I really like Don Henley’s solo work (he will show up twice on this list). I think he is an excellent songwriter and has been since his days with the Eagles. So saying, I was first caught by Bruce Hornsby’s piano playing (Hornsby will also show up on this list) on this song. Once the listener gets through the piano, Henley’s lyrics hit like a punch to the gut. This song revisits the classic struggle of Innocence vs. Experience (expertly set up by British poet William Blake in the Romantic era). This struggle depicts the change we all have to go through as we age – the innocence of youth and how it clashes with experience of adulthood. Henley sets up this conflict by first looking at childhood:
Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn’t have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standing by
This idealistic youth quickly takes a turn for the worse:
When happily ever after fails
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly
While we all have different experiences, we all grow and learn that the world is not as nice and beautiful as we thought it was. These are tough lessons to experience, but they are unavoidable. There is no real protest yet, until Henley writes:
O’ beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They’re beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king
Armchair warriors often fail
This is a direct criticism of Ronald Reagan and his policies that damaged the Heartland and farmers of America. Henley wants to go back to a time when life was simpler and all of these issues and problems did not matter. Unfortunately, Henley knows that this is impossible and ends this song with:
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence
This is the tragedy of life. For most of us it begins carefree, but policy and politicians get in the way and ruin it.
Billy Joel is another excellent song writer from the ‘80s who hit with songs like Uptown Girl, Tell Her About It, and later in the decade We Didn’t Start the Fire. In 1982 he released Allentown, and while it only reached #17 on the Billboard weekly charts (but #47 on the year end charts), this song packs an enormous punch. Joel describes life in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a typical coal mining town whose residents are dependent upon that coal and working in those mines for a living. The young people in Allentown are becoming restless because the life that they were promised is not coming to fruition. Their parents and teachers all promised them a comfortable life working with coal, but it is not happening:
Well we’re living here in Allentown
And they’re closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they’re killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line
It is becoming harder and harder for these young people to stay in a town that is economically dying. This now becomes a metaphor for the working class in the Northeastern United States. This area once had an industry that was booming and could easily support those who were willing to work for it. Now, times are changing and, while the will to work is still there, the money is not.
Well we’re waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave . . .
So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Ever since the first time I heard this song, these lyrics have stick with me and still stand out today:
Every child has a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got
But something happened on the way to that place
They threw an American flag in our face
Billy Joel is trying to draw attention to a part of the country that is dying. An industry that was once vital to American life is now being left behind; those who are being left behind are suffering, caught in a situation not of their own making and not knowing what to do, caught in a trap of, as they see it, lies.
There are not many hits in the ’80s that were not in the English language, but there are two pretty big hits that were in German. Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus hit #1 in March of 1986 (the only song in German to hit this height). A bit earlier, in 1984, a German song hit #2 (it was kept out of the #1 spot by Van Halen’s Jump) entitled 99 Luftballoons by the band Nena. This song was a clear protest against war and our over eagerness to use weapons to solve problems. The English translation of this song did not chart in the Billboard charts at all and it did change the song’s basic situation, so, having lived in Germany for six years and being married to a lovely woman who teaches German in high school, I am going to use lyrics here from the original version, translated by that beautiful teacher.
The conflict in this song centers around the sighting of ninety-nine balloons flying through the air that are mistaken for UFOs. In a panic, the leader of the military sends out fighter jets and raises the alarm. The song continues:
Neunundneunzig Düsenflieger (Ninety-nine jet aircraft)
Jeder war ein großer Krieger (Everyone was a great warrior)
Hielten sich für Captain Kirk (Thought they were Captain Kirk)
Das gab ein großes Feuerwerk (That sent big fireworks)
Die Nachbarn haben nichts gerafft (the Neighbours did not understand this)
Und fühlten sich gleich angemacht (And felt immediately)
Dabei schoss man am Horizont (They shot at the horizon)
Auf neunundneunzig Luftballons (At ninety nine balloons)
Clearly, the government has overreacted and started a war over a complete misinterpretation of what was seen in the sky. Those government officials thought they were smart and, supposedly in the best interest of the people, aggressively attacked those ninety-nine balloons. The warning comes in the last, somber verse:
Neunundneunzig Luftballons (Ninety nine balloons)
Neunundneunzig jahre Krieg (Ninety-nine years of war)
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger (There was no room for winners)
Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr (There is no more war minister)
Und auch keine Düsenflieger (And also no jet airplanes)
Heute zieh ich meine Runden (Today I make my rounds)
Seh die Welt in Trümmern liegen (See the world in ruins)
Hab ‘n Luftballon gefunden (Found a balloon)
Denk an dich und lass ihn fliegen (Think of you and let it fly)
Like Russians by Sting coming later, this song expounds on the dangers of nuclear war. In Neunundneunzig Luftballons the destruction comes from a mistake, a misinterpretation – of seeing a danger where there is none and reacting in a fatalistic manner.
I love me some Prince! Return to the ‘80s has done a podcast on him and he has been written about on this very blog. In December I will be in Minneapolis for a few days and I am going to make a side trip to see Paisley Park. Prince has so many great songs, but on this one he leaves the fun behind and confronts more serious issues. What issues, you ask. These:
In France, a skinny guy died of a big disease with a little name
By chance his girlfriend came by a needle and soon she did the same
At home there are seventeen year old boys and their idea of fun
Is being in a gang called the Disciples
High on crack, totin’ a machine gun
Pretty weighty issues for the same guy who recommended that we all go crazy. Prince has definitely revealed his more serious side before this, though, in songs like the classic Purple Rain. This song continues it’s serious look at societal problems:
Hurricane Annie ripped the ceiling of a church and killed everyone inside
You turn on the telly and every other story is telling you somebody died
A sister killed her baby ’cause she couldn’t afford to feed it
And yet we’re sending people to the moon
In September, my cousin tried reefer for the very first time
Now he’s doing horse, it’s June, unh
Drugs. Violence. Hypocrisy. Prince gives us a rather scathing look at the world we live in. Not wanting to be a complete pessimist, Prince does offer us a suggestion of hope, “Let’s fall in love, get married, have a baby / We’ll call him Nate, if it’s a boy.” Prince is an excellent songwriter and Sign o’the Times is yet another example of how his songs influenced, represented, and ruled the decade.
Top 10 Protest or Socially Conscious Songs from the ‘80s
by Robert Mishou
I recently finished a wonderful Young Adult (YA) novel by Todd Hasak-Lowy entitled Me Being Me is Exactly the Same as You Being You. What I liked about this book wasn’t the story – it was fine, not outstanding, but fine. What I was captured with was the format of the narrative – it was told completely in a series of list. This very inventive story had characterization, setting, climax – everything, but it all had to be put together by the reader through lists! I loved it and found it a groundbreaking way to tell a story. More importantly, it has rekindled my love for lists. So, coming at you for the rest of 2016 will be a series of lists of my favorites from the ‘80s. This first list will be my top 10 favorite protest or socially conscious songs from the decade that does not get enough credit for being serious when times called for it.
There are those who find protest song tedious and there are those who seek protest songs and work to ‘feel’ the issue. I fall somewhere in between. I like protest songs and I use them as a springboard to learn more about the issue that the song is focused on. I do not seek out protest songs, but I do love the insight that most of them give on human life and the struggles we face. I have always loved looking for and understanding songs that have a clear socially conscious message. So as not to cull protests from you, ‘80s fans, here is my list.
Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen
We all have our pet peeves. I am no different, so here is mine: it drives me absolutely bonkers when there is a patriotic celebration, like 4th of July fireworks, and I hear this song blasting from the speakers. Are we really that ignorant of lyrics and their meaning? Can the general public not understand tone? Born in the U.S.A is nowhere near a song that celebrates America’s heritage. In fact, it is quite the opposite. In this song, Springsteen sings about the poor treatment of America’s fighting men who have returned home from Vietnam. Despite the recent Veteran’s Day celebrations, we should not forget that not that long ago, many of those veterans returned home to very poor treatment. Springsteen writes:
Came back home to the refinery
Hiring man says, “Son, if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said, “Son, don’t you understand”
No, they did not understand why the country they risked their lives to defend was not treating them in such an unwarranted way. Yes, despite being just a baby during this time, I do know of the public perception of the war in Vietnam, but Springsteen sees them all as excuses and his tone suggests that they are completely ridiculous. The Vietnam vet, who is the speaker in this song, ends by revealing his desperate situation:
Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Got nowhere to run, ain’t go nowhere to go
All of this is framed with the sarcastic chorus, “Born in the U.S.A” – in essence, how can a man who fought for his country, who lost his brother in the same war, now not get a job now that the war is over? Please, for me, the next time you hear this song played for a patriotic celebration, turn to the person next to you and explain what the song is about.
Hi Everybody! Paul here. Today is our big ’80s extravaganza! Several ’80s bloggers and podcasters got together, and decided on a common topic that we will share. We are promoting each others work, and introducing you to some ’80s blogs that you may not have know were out there. The topic in this inaugural crossover will be on our favorite cars that were famous in the ’80s. Here is the list of blogs taking part are:
Now, here is Robert. let’s start our engines, Hit 88 mph and get this underway. You’re worried about not having enough road? No worries. Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.
Cool Cars from the ‘80s
by Robert Mishou
The Flux Capacitor. 88 miles per hour. 1.21 gigowatts of power. Need I say more? I am not a big car guy; in fact, I know almost nothing about cars other than where the gas goes. Despite this, there a few cars featured in ‘80s movies or on TV that I did like in my formative years and still stay with me today. While I liked the van that the A-Team drove and KITT from Knight Rider was pretty cool, by far my favorite cat from the ‘80s was the DeLorean DMC-12. This car, from the iconic Back to the Future, was developed into a time machine by Doc Brown. This awesome car was piloted by both Doc Brown and Marty McFly throughout the trilogy – it has traveled many miles on roads – well, roads for a while because eventually, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
I am sure that most of you know that the Delorean was an actual car. It was produced by John Z. DeLorean who worked for General Motors and was (at the time) best known for designing the Pontiac GTO. In 1974 he left GM and to form his own car company, the DeLorean Motor Company. The actual design for this car was by Italian Giorgetto Giugiaro and the car was built in a plant in Northern Ireland. All DeLoreans came out in stainless steel and were never painted at the factory. The first Delorean rolled out in 1981, but, unfortunately sales were poor and the company went bankrupt in 1982.
By far, the most notoriety that this car ever received was through its inclusion in the Back to the Future trilogy. According to the website backtotefuture.com, “For the first film, three DeLorean automobiles were purchased for modification into the now-famous time machine. An additional three vehicles were purchased for the two sequels, and a full-sized fiberglass DeLorean replica was built for the flying scenes in Back to the Future Part II. The time machine was designed Ron Cobb, Andrew Probert, and Michael Scheffe. Kevin Pike’s special effects company Filmtrix built the first three DeLorean time machines in just ten weeks.”
Fictionally, this car is the creation of one Doc Brown, wonderfully played by Christopher Lloyd. Doc Brown is the archetypal recluse scientist that most of the people in town believe is off his rocker. One night Brown slips, hits his head and comes up with the idea of the flux capacitor which is the crux of this car’s ability to travel in time. The car is powered by a nuclear fission reactor located on the top of the car. When in a pinch, the car can also be hurtled through time with a bolt of lighting. Be it with plutonium, lightning, or a Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor, this car goes; all told the car travels to various time periods in the history of Hill Valley ranging from 1885 to 2015.
As I said earlier, I was never much into cars, but this time traveling automobile from these film captured my imagination. The car is sleek and cool – I would give anything to drive it. Yes, I want it to have the time travel capabilities! How cool would it be to find a long stretch of road, hit 88 mph, and BOOM, you’re in a different era? I can only wish. I am positive that my love for this car comes from the fact that it was, in many scenes, the vehicle of Michael J. Fox. I loved Family Ties. I would love Teen Wolf. I definitely loved him in Back to the Future! He was the teen I wanted to be and, because he drove the DeLorean, it became my fantasy car. I bought into Back to the Future 100%. For a few hours in the theater or on my TV, I believed that time travel was possible and that I could solve of my problems, not matter how complex, with this car. Oh, to be behind the wheel now!
What were some of your favorite cars seen in the ’80s? I hope you enjoyed this series. Please let us know what you think, and if you would like to see more of these crossover events. Again, please check out the following blogs. Every one is on Twitter as well, so please give all these hard-working bloggers a follow:
Of all of these films, this is the one that I remember the least – that I have the fewest recollections about. Some Kind of Wonderful was released almost exactly a year after Pretty in Pink, in February of 1987. The reason that this film escapes me a bit today is that in February of 1987 I was a senior at Frankfurt American High School in Frankfurt, (then) West Germany. I was dating and madly in love with my future wife, I was just accepted to the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and I was mentally preparing for my return to the United States after living overseas for the previous six years – so, pardon me for not remembering everything about the movie. I do remember seeing the teaser and loving it; it definitely made me excited to see the latest Hughes installment and is still one of my favorite teasers of all time.
I did go see it in the theater, but clearly my mind was other places because all really remember is someone playing drums, probably because of that teaser. I definitely recognized a few of the cast members like Lea Thompson from Back to the Future and I had read that Eric Stoltz was supposed to be Marty McFly, but was replaced by Michael J. Fox. Some Kind of Wonderful did not have the same lasting effect on me that the previous Hughes films had. I did catch it on cable a few times during college and I do remember liking it.
Maybe it is because I have so few real memories of this film, but I really enjoyed watching it again. I did not come to it completely clean and unbiased, but it was the cleanest viewing of all of these Hughes’ films. While watching I was easily transported back to 1987 (the year is even uttered by Watts) and my own senior year in high school. Watching Some Kind of Wonderful this time made me believe that this was Hughes chance to retell Pretty in Pink. With some quick reading, you can find that Hughes’ original ending to Pretty in Pink had Andie leaving with Duckie, but due to test audience disapproval, the script was changed and Andie ends up with Blaine. I am perfectly fine with that ending, but Hughes must have been a bit unsatisfied and decided to make Some Kind of Wonderful with the ending he wanted.
The plots of the two films are similar. Both feature a very deep divide between classes. Those who have and those who have not do not get along. In Some Kind of Wonderful, regular, working class Keith (Eric Stoltz) has a major crush on Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson), who lives in Keith’s neighborhood, but hangs out with rich friends and is dating the ultra rich Hardy (Craig Sheffer). We have a conflict, which of course, needs some complication. Next we have Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), the drum playing tomboy who has been in love with Keith forever. All of this sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it? Andie has a crush on unattainable Blaine, but Duckie has been in love with Andie for years. Is Hughes just doing another Pretty in Pink? Maybe. Maybe there is a good reason to retell a the same story. There are a few differences: Some Kind of Wonderful takes place in California and the genders are all switched around. Hardy is as despicable as Steff and the main players are extremely likable in both films. Both have secondary characters who we pull for, both Watts and Duckie are easy to root for. Hughes’ major change here is the resolution. I think deep down that Hughes wanted Duckie to win – to get the girl. So in Some Kind of Wonderful, he does just that. Watts survives all of the trials of her relationship with Keith and, after Amanda pushes him to her, gets the guy.
While I believe that Duckie and Watts fulfill the same role, Watts is a more complete character. Watts is a legitimate tom boy who, while not completely fitting in, has more depth to her character than Duckie does. Duckie is quirky and funny, but his antics smack a little too much of desperation. Watts is also desperate, loving Keith from afar and never letting him know, hoping he would figure it out on his own, but I believe her more. Her character shows sincere talent with her ability on the drums; shows sincere longing through the way she looks at Keith; shows bravery when she is the driver for Keith and Amanda’s date; and shows honest emotion on her tear drenched face when she thinks she has lost Keith forever. Most importantly, Watts doesn’t need Keith to be a success in life, where Duckie may be nothing without Andie. I do wish the film showed her playing the drums more often, heck include the scene from the teaser in the movie. Watts is the most complete character in this film and in many ways makes the film worth watching.
Hardy. Hardy. Hardy. This completely despicable character is easily one of the worst guys to be present in a Hughes film. As much as I loathe Steff in Pretty in Pink, Hardy seems worse because he knows what he is doing and manipulates those around him. Hardy uses Amanda, lies to her, manipulates her, and then discards her (lucky for her!). He is used to getting what he wants – girls, cars, parties, whatever; he does not handle losing well at all. Hardy even resorts to setting up Keith by inviting him to a party at his house, all the time planning for his friends to jump Keith pummel the crap out of him. There is not a scene that has Hardy in it that reveals any sort of sympathy. He is a jerk when he pulls into the gas station that Keith works in to confront him about talking to “his girl” Amanda. He is a lying pig when, after hitting on another girl, he tells Amanda, “Trust is the basis for any relationship. I trust you.” Then puts a ring on her finger! He even has the audacity to say, “Well, this jealousy crap it getting a bit tedious.” At the end of the film, Hardy refuses to fight Keith himself. Instead, he will have his boys do it for him. I am not a fighting kind of guy, but if I could see Hardy I would seriously consider punching him in the face.
Usually I do not like situations where the threatened hero is saved by an unexpected source, but when Duncan appears at the party to help Keith, an enormous smile crosses my face – yes! Hardy gets what he deserves. Duncan is a rough, delinquent-type of student, not unlike The Breakfast Club’s John Bender, who plays the bully who scares and intimidates other students. Keith meets him in after school detention that he attends on purpose so he can see Amanda, who unbeknownst to Keith, has weaseled (and flirted) her way out of this punishment. Duncan and Keith strike up a friendships based on art the each is creating – Keith’s pencil on paper, Duncan’s knife on desk. This unlikely friendship surfaces a few times in the film and serves to not only help Keith, but to help the viewers smile and have faith that those with everything do not always win.
I believe Keith and the way that Stoltz plays him. I believe Watts and the way Masterson plays her. I hate Hardy because of the way Sheffer plays him. I love the end of Some Kind of Wonderful. Hughes’ films tend to have poignant endings:
Pretty in Pink: Jake: “Happy birthday, Samantha. Blow out the candles, make a wish.”
Sam: “it already came true.”
The Breakfast Club: the closing letter
Ferris Bueller: Ferris: “You’re still here? It’s over, go home. Go.”
Pretty in Pink: Blaine: “You told me you couldn’t believe in someone who did not believe in you. I always believed in you. You just didn’t believe in me. I love you.”
Duckie: “Andie, he came here alone. You’re right, he’s not like the others. If you don’t go to him now, I’m never going to take you to another prom ever again. . .”
These are all great, but the last lines of Some Kind of Wonderful really hit me:
Watts (putting in the earrings Keith gave her), “Well, how do they look?” Keith: “You look good wearing my future.” This is the perfect ending to a Hughes film that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of ‘80s film lore.
Here are the numbers. In order of box office receipts, here are how the Big 5 John Hughes films fared:
#1 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – $70,136,369
#2 The Breakfast Club – $45,871,171
#3 Pretty in Pink – $40,471,663
#4 Sixteen Candles – $23,686,027
#5 Some Kind of Wonderful – $18,553,948
Maybe we were tired of high school movies by the time Some Kind of Wonderful came along in 1987. Maybe we were tired of seeing the same faces inhabit the same halls. Maybe John Hughes had said all there was to say about being in high school in the ‘80s. For whatever reason, Some Kind of Wonderful took in the lowest amount at the box office, yet it may be one of the better views of high school in the ‘80s that Hughes created. While it does not meet the sophistication or depth of The Breakfast Club, nor does it have the humor of Sixteen Candles or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful deserves it place in the canon of films made about high school in the 1980s. If you have not seen it for a while, or have never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it – you will not regret it.
We are all, unfortunately, becoming way too used to the phrase “30th anniversary of . . .” Anything that was released in 1986 is now thirty years old! As much as this hurts, it also makes me happy to know that I grew up in a decade that was iconic enough to have the public take note when movies, television shows, or music released during the decade has an “anniversary.” DO NOT go and look at a list of what was released in 1986 – don’t! It’s just too depressing.
In February of 1986, Molly Ringwald teamed up again with John Hughes for a new movie, Pretty in Pink. This is the fourth of five Hughes films that ruled the decade. I was in the second half of my junior in high school, but already thinking of being a senior and trying to decide what to do after that.
Because I lived on an Army base in Germany, my friends and I had to wait for new releases to make it to the military movie theaters. The movies typically arrived a few months after U.S. release, but typically beat VHS release. About the time school was finishing that Spring, we hit the Idle Hour movie theatre eager to see Pretty in Pink. My two best friends and I were huge Hughes fans. We loved Sixteen Candles – were blown away with The Breakfast Club – and tolerated Ferris Buller’s Day Off. We felt extremely confident that Pretty in Pink would not disappoint.
It did not! I was immediately drawn into the class conflict that the film centers around. In a different way, we were faced with a similar situation. We were NCO (non commissioned officers) kids and had a negative view a many Officer’s kids. We thought that they got everything because their fathers were higher rank than ours were. So seeing Andie’s and Duckie’s struggle with Steff and Blane because of economics really resonated with us. That aside, I was a little in love with Molly Ringwald and any character she played was fine by me. I remember the story being a straight-forward love story with cool ancillary characters and an ending that I felt was “as it should be” – Andie is able to make Blane overcome the socio economic pressures persuading him to not like her and they WILL live happily ever after.
As much as I enjoyed the movie, the soundtrack is what I remember the most. There is no hyperbole in saying that it was, by far, my favorite soundtrack of the ‘80s. I am still a bit surprised because my typical music choices tend to bit more guitar based rock. I loved this soundtrack so much that I am going to stop talking about it and so a completely separate article on it (I’ll start it as soon as this Hughes series is complete).
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way – I still really enjoy this movie! The one thing that jumped out at me on this viewing was the cast. Pretty in Pink was not the last stop for any of these actors. I am not saying that everything they did after this movie was great, but they were working! Some continued with the almost adult characters like Andrew McCarthy and James Spader in Less Than Zero and Jon Cryer in Hiding Out. Molly Ringwald has been able to take a variety of roles in television and movies including a small part in Not Another Teen Movie, poking a little fun a the films that made her famous. Pretty in Pink is not an end to any of their careers, in fact, all of them continue to grow as performers and play better roles showing that Pretty in Pink cannot be considered a climax to any of their careers.
The opening sequences immediately reminds me of how great the music is. The Psychedelic Furs belt out “Pretty in Pink” right away as the camera pans across the lower economic part of town across the tracks – it literally shows train tracks – where Andie lives. This sets up the film length conflict and the source for most of the characters’ angst. The two groups of people, rich and poor, fill the screen in nearly all of the opening scenes. Either through visuals, costumes, or settings, the struggle between the haves and the have nots is readily apparent. The house that Andie lives in with her father, who she is desperately trying to get out of bed and to a job interview, is quickly followed by an uncomfortable classroom scene where a few of the rich girls cruelly criticize Andie’s clothing choice. The American history teacher notices the discord and justifiably punishes the wealthy instigators. The conflict intensifies when Andi denies the problem and asks for the punishment to be removed. The snotty girls smugly accept the punishment, making Andie feel worthless in the eyes of the rich – not for the last time. Hughes really hits us over the head with the importance of these social classes by bouncing between rich and poor sub-settings. These quick changes helps us “feel” the division among the characters and heightens the effect of the relationship that we know is coming between Andie and Blane.
This is the crux of the film, isn’t it? Relationships. Duckie is in love with Andie. Steff and Blane are having a falling out. Andie and Blane fall for each other. It is these relationships that drawn us in – that we connect to and that keep us going.
Andie and Duckie: Many of you have read that the original script had Duckie showing up at prom to save Andie and she chooses him. While this would be a perfect ending for Duckie, test audiences didn’t like it, so it was changed and the ending became what we know know it is, Andie and Blane overcoming their differences and getting together. While I feel for Duckie and even relate to him a bit, I now find his schtick a bit annoying. I admire his persistence and think the scene with the bouncer (played by Andrew Dice Clay) not letting him into the club is funny and played in a natural and believable manner by both actors. Despite this, I think his antics do border on stalking. We have all pined for someone, most of us for someone who was unattainable, but there is no great reason for Andie to choose Duckie. She is an intelligent young woman who is going to get an education and work her way out of the financial wasteland that her father has never been able to imagine a way out of. As harsh as it is, Duckie is a dead end for her. Yes, they are best friends, but she cannot spend the rest of her life with him and expect to change her situation. One evening she is helping Duckie study for a test. Andie is explaining the Warsaw pact to an completely uninterested Duckie. As he is dancing in her mirror, she reads his answer: “The Warsaw Pact is a pact that is named after Warsaw.” He is unconcerned; he takes this whole thing as a joke. Andie throws a little psychology at him and suggests he is failing his classes on purpose so he does not have to face the future. Duckie becomes defensive – but it is true, Duckie cannot imagine a world without Andie, but knows it is going to end soon and there is little he can do about it. Duckie is in a difficult situation, but he is not facing it nor is he trying to find a viable solution. Andie cannot be with him as a serious boyfriend. But, man, do I admire him taking on Steff at school after he overhears him in the stairwell with Blane.
Blane and Steff: As much as we like Blane, we hate Steff. We admire Blane for trying to break away from his pretentious, rich friends and find his liking of Andie sincere. It is all of this potential in Blane that make Steff his antithesis and the antagonist of this film. Steff’s hypocrisy is clear when he, once again, hits on Andie and, when refused, says, “You bitch.” Steff even confronts Blane at school over his liking Andie. During their uncomfortable first date, Blane takes Andie to a party at Steff’s. Expectedly, Andie receives condescending looks from most of the “richies” and feels out of place. To escape the stares, Blane innocently takes Andie to an upstairs bedroom. Unfortunately, there is a drunk Steff and Benny in the room. Benny, who is slyly nasty to Andie earlier in history class and P.E., is now openly hostile to Andie and to Blane for having Andie with him at the party. Later, while doing cocaine, Steff confronts Blane about this:
Steff: I thought that was very uncool of you last night, Blane.
Blane: Do you mean Andie?
Steff: I mean Andie.
Blane: What’s the big deal? I like her. As a matter of fact, I was pissed off at you guys
for being so nasty to her.
Steff: It was way out of order for you to foist her on the party . . . What do I have to spell it out for you, Blane? Nobody appreciates your sense of humor. As a matter of fact, everyone is about to puke from it. If you got a hard on for trash, don’t take care of it around us, pal.
This from your best friend! We have no problem with Blane leaving Steff and this crowd behind; we only wonder what took so long. Once again, props to Duckie for laying a few punches on Steff!
Andie and Blane: There is no reason for these two to be together. They are from different sides of the track, have different friends, and have little in common. Blane is brave enough to step beyond the confines of expectations of his rich friends and ask Andie out on a date. His best friend, Steff, notices his behavior and calls him on it when he sees him coming in from the ‘other’ side. He is taking offense at Blane wanting to go outside of his kind and be with Andie (who has repeatedly rebuked his advances). Blane is well aware of what his friends will think and receives harsh treatment from Duckie as well while they are all at the club. I, like most of you, was upset with Blane when he seemingly succumbed to the pressure and lied to Andie about having another prom date. The economic differences are between Blane and Andie are clear and constantly compounded, and it is because of these stark differences that we pull for them – not unlike we pull for Romeo and Juliet. Just because a love is forbidden or unaccepted does not mean it cannot, or should not happen. Neither side accepts those from the other side: the rich do not like the poor and have unfounded biases towards them AND the poor do not accept the rich and have unfounded biases toward them. Clearly, both sides are unbudging and short sighted. This is the very reason that we want Andie and Blane to work. We know that most of the characters around these two are self centered, egotistical, and difficult to like. This lack of likable characters only heightens our desire to see Andie and Blane conquer the prejudices and find a way to get together and stay together. We are just as happy when Andie kisses Blane for the first time after he asks her to the prom as we are when Sam kisses Jake over the birthday cake he made her. In short, we want them to work and believe they can work.
The ancillary characters are perfect in this movie. The music is outstanding. The conflict is real. Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, and Jon Cryer are excellent. I love his movie.
Pretty in Pink may not be the perfect movie and I like The Breakfast Club better, but it owns a rightful spot in the canon of ‘80s films. The class struggle is a bit overdone, but it is real and still exists in many towns and high schools today. I am not sure that American society will even honestly be able to move past these economic class structures. The pressures placed by both sides on members of their own group are difficult to overcome, but they can be conquered. It is this belief that love can overcome such profound obstacles that keeps us going – it keeps us going to the movies – it keeps us reading the books and plays – it keeps us believing that love can overcome any petty obstacle that it encounters. Pretty in Pink left me with positive (and a bit Romanticized) memories of my past. I still really like this installment of the Hughes canon.
Loyal Return to the ’80s follower and contributor, Andy Silikovitz, Just saw The Bangles this past Saturday, August 27th at Irving Plaza in New York City. Here is some video he shot, and is sharing with us on this Manic Monday. The video straightens out around the 30 second mark. Thanks Andy!