Saturday, April 4, 2015

Lazy Movie Weekend: Claire did it.

Like Samantha Baker, the heroine of 1984's Sixteen Candles, I can remember a lot of things. Birthdays, family vacations, what my friends wore on dates so they wouldn't repeat an outfit, quotes from every movie I've every watched - you know, important things. However, one thing that I can't remember, at least not in any grand amount of detail, is the first time I watched The Breakfast Club. Arguably one of the most significant teen focused movies of all time, The Breakfast Club was released in theaters when I was 6 years old (1985) so I was not a first generation Brat Pack/John Hughes fan. I was a child of the late 80s/early 90s; I watched the movie for the first time on a VHS tape at someone's house at some point before the 8th grade. That's all I remember from an event/location perspective.

What I do remember from that first viewing is the actual movie and how it became an obsession of mine immediately following that experience. I have probably seen The Breakfast Club over 200 hundred times (probably a low estimation). I have owned it on VHS and DVD (two copies because I wore on of them out). I have the soundtrack on cassette tape and CD and it's in my iTunes library as we speak. I know the movie by heart, including most of the songs, and occasionally find myself quoting it just because. I listen to the song "Don't You (Forget About Me)" multiple times in a week, sometimes multiple times in a day. I've read books about the film and John Hughes and written by the cast members (Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald primarily). I've even been to the high school that was used for filming and the one that gave the movie it's name (perk of my training job). I may have gotten all teared up with the movie and the song were used in Pitch Perfect. I wrote a post for this blog about my ideal fan conferences one of which focused on John Hughes movies and meeting Molly Ringwald. I guess this means I'm a super fan.

All of my friends know of my obsession and have to some degree, participated in it over the years. Whether it was simply watching it with me again (thanks Heather and Kelly) or putting up with my need to put "Don't You (Forget About Me)" one every mix tape I make (everyone I have ever made a mix tape for), they've been supportive and a bit indulgent. That's what friends are for I guess. And thanks to Anita, I have now seen the movie in a movie theater like God and John Hughes intended me to. You see, it's the 30th anniversary of The Breakfast Club. How do we celebrate such significant events? By going to a Fathom Events special screening of the movie with other super fans. Anita was kind enough to not punch me as I quoted the majority of the movie. This is a mark of true friendship.

This was my first time attending a Fathom Events movie screening. With regular films, there's always a bonus of some form and for this screening of The Breakfast Club it came in the form a special anniversary feature preceding the film. This included actors from the film like Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson (looking very 2015 New Jack City), Anthony Michael Hall, and John Kapelos who played Carl (and who is awesome). Also featured were screenwriter Diablo Cody and author Hank Stuever. If you haven't read his book Off Ramp, I suggest you do so after finishing this post. It's a favorite of mine. There were also some other "authorities" on pop culture and 80s movies (why isn't this my job?). Anyway, one of the topics of discussion was the transformation of Sheedy's character at the end of the film. I have a lot of opinions on this particular topic; probably as many as I have about that horrible dress at the end of Pretty in Pink.

Sheedy's character, Allison, is the weirdo of the detention group. She doesn't speak for the first 39 minutes of the movie and she does things like use her dandruff (Parmesan cheese by the way) to decorate an intricate sketch she's drawn on the library table. She also eats a sandwich comprised of white bread, mayo, Cap'n Crunch, and Pixie sticks. Eventually, she does talk and we find out that her parents ignore her and that she's a compulsive liar. We all knew an Allison in high school (or were Allison in high school to some degree). She's pretty but is not the teenage ideal when it comes to fashion or beauty and she doesn't really care. Allison is the only one of the group that is comfortable with who she is before coming into detention even if her home life is "unsatisfying" as she describes it to Andrew.

By contrast, Claire is the princess, the most popular girl in school. She is pretty, fashionably dressed, her makeup is impeccable, and she is what high school guys want (at least in 1980s teen movie standards). By the end of the movie, the characters have fulfilled their duties as the stereotype/archetype they are representing but have also come to realize that those roles are stupid and unnecessary. As the day winds down, new friendships have been formed (maybe they'll hang out on Monday) and two possible couples emerge. The other thing that you should notice at the end is that Claire begins to orchestrate the end of the day from getting Brian to write the paper for everyone to surprising Bender with a kiss. She knows Brian is the smartest and that Bender got her in some way and she has to admit that in order to actually learn anything from the experiences of the day. That brings us to Allison's makeover.

I've always been torn about this part of the movie. If you look at this moment on the surface level, it seems wrong. It's like Allison changes to fit into a cooler clique at school. She becomes a mini-Claire "without all that black shit under your eyes" and Andrew has a reaction to her new look that is very sweet and endearing. She is still defensive in this first moments with her new look but still her; she steals his patch, she gets a little tense when Andrew says she looks different, almost like she's going to lash out at him for saying something bad about her. She even says "Claire did it" as a way to justify the new look. In the pre-movie feature, Diablo Cody takes this argument and expresses her dislike for Allison's transformation. Up until a few years ago, I would have agreed. I always thought that Allison sold out at the end, that she conformed.

But I don't believe that anymore. If you think about the movie as a whole each character has created some form of mask or armor for themselves so that they can get through high school and move on with their lives. Bender is angry and defiant, Brian is the smartest kid in school, Andrew chooses to be whoever his family says he should be, Claire is perfect, and Allison is a mute weirdo. Their clothes, makeup (for the girls), and body language speak to this throughout the movie. It's only through their realization that they're not that different from one another that they shed these masks/armor. Allison reminds me of the work of the artist Mickalene Thomas. I discovered Thomas during my docent training this summer. Her work focuses on ideas of female identity and beauty, specifically for African-American women. What reminded me of Thomas during my recent re-watching of The Breakfast Club is this quote of hers about her work with rhinestones:

"I feel like the rhinestones in my paintings are like that really glossy lipstick that women wear. It's another level of masking, of dressing up."

I think for Allison the makeover is just that - dressing up. She's trying on a new persona, a new look as teenagers often do. We all went through phases growing up and maybe we still go through them as adults. We have to try on different looks and ideas to find the things that we truly believe in and that express who we are as a person. Now I like to think about Allison's makeover as just a part of her evolution as a person. Maybe in a few months she realizes she really misses all that black eye makeup and she brings it back. Maybe she decides pastels are really her thing. Maybe she throws all of that out the window and figures out her new look. Allison is not less Allison because Claire softened her eyeliner and brushed her hair. I think she's more herself at the end of the movie because she found her voice. She can wear a ton of eyeliner or a hairband and a pink shirt. That doesn't change who she is.

I leave you with this:

Claire & Allison image
Allison - Before & After image
Video clip from YouTube

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