Saturday, 29 August 2009

24 Years Late: I just watched The Breakfast Club for the first time and I'd like to talk about it, please.

So. I just watched The Breakfast Club (1985) for the first time. It was for "research" for another project I have going on in my life. If you were here in my apartment with me right now, I'd want to talk to you about it, even though you probably saw it a long time ago and are probably over, or more likely never were interested in, discussing it at length. So consider yourself fortunate that instead of berating you verbally with these thoughts, you only have to peruse them in text form until you decide to click away. Perhaps you already have. Without further ado:

Why oh why is it called The Breakfast Club?
  • Again, I've never really had a discussion with anyone about this film, so perhaps this is old news, but please tell me it is generally agreed upon that this is a silly title? Five kids all have detention together on a Saturday from 7-3, early on they discuss different "clubs" (social clubs vs academic clubs vs sport teams vs belonging to no clubs), they eat lunch together, they indicate that they may or may not be friends once this day is over, and then they leave, some of them kissing before they do. They never eat breakfast. 7am does seem early, which is what a lot of the internet posts defending the title or attempting to explain the title pointed to, but actually 7am only seems early for those of us who are no longer on the primary/secondary school schedule. That is just a normal school day that those kids went through. Listen, to me, your title should be one of two things: 1) obviously from the story you are telling (examples of this abound: The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, 10 Things I Hate About You), or 2) although not from the story, title is something that compliments or offers a new twist on our understanding of the story (in The Fountainhead, the word "fountainhead" never appears in the book, but that title works because it supports a theme of the book). In contrast, The Breakfast Club toes the line between making sense and not making sense, in a way that aggravates me more than it should. It feels like an attempt was made to go for the first category of title I described above, something directly from the movie, but there is no justification for "Brian"/Anthony Michael Hall signing their essay "The Breakfast Club." Some of the internet posts defending the title cited this as the reason for the film's title, but this is circular logic to me. The Detention Club maybe? The Saturday Club perhaps? It felt like it was going for a title like this. On the other hand, if the intention was to go for the second type of less obvious title, than I think it wasn't taken far enough. Something like, Nothing Better To Do or What We Did To Get In Here or Five White Kids. Speaking of that...
All types of kids (all of the types of white relatively good looking kids, that is)
  • So I suppose it can be attributed to being an artifact of the times or whatever, but if one was going to write a blog entry about one's first time watching The Breakfast Club (which I seem to be doing) then I think it would be impossible not to at least mention this fact. I mean, especially for a film that is about taking five strangers from different backgrounds and showing that they have more in common than they think, it might have been a bit more ambitious to choose a slightly more representative cross section of American society at the time. But hey, at this point it is what it is. I'm mainly sharing my viewing experience, not offering an earnest plea for how the movie should have been made. By the time both the teacher and the janitor were also good looking white dudes, it just seemed like it wasn't simply a grave oversight, but actually possibly an active effort to keep this film white. That being said, this film wouldn't be a classic and hold the place that it does in popular culture without doing a few things pretty damn well...
Ambitious decisions
  • Despite the misgivings shared above, there were some things that I really admired. For example, it takes place in one location: a school. Not only that, most of the "action" takes place within the library. Action has been placed in quotation marks because not much action actually occurs, which is also ambitious. I imagine watching this film (pre the teen romantic comedies of the 90s and way pre mumble core films about youth) back in 1985, there was a tremendous feeling amongst middle class teenagers of being able to relate to these characters in a way that previous films might not have had. I imagine movie goers might have even exclaimed things like, "Hey, they're just like us!" or "Hey, they're just sitting around the school talking about stuff - that is what we do!" or even "Hey, they're making jokes, smoking weed in detention, and throwing lunch meat on library statues - aka what we did yesterday!" And while at times there are punches of 80s music that now feel dated and hilarious, there are also long stretches where there is no musical scoring at all, just the dialogue, something that I admire a lot. Music, sometimes more than anything else, in movies tells the viewer what emotion he or she should be feeling at this time. Without music, there is more onus on the viewer to decide how he or she feels about what is on the screen at that moment. At the beginning of the film especially, there is a long break in music between the opening credits and the first time it kicks in again after we've been introduced to all of the characters. During this stretch, there is nothing to entertain us or get us drawn in but the individuals and the unremarkable dialogue we're observing on the screen. I think that is ambitious for a mainstream film.
Length of the essay
  • They are supposed to write a 1000 word essay. The essay that is read at the end is probably around 90 words. This is fine, but for crazy people like me, if this isn't addressed at least, then inevitably I will notice it and it will take me out of the movie going experience. I was unable to enjoy the satisfaction of the ending because I was just thinking, "Wow, that was way less than 1000 words." Again, ending with an Anthony Michael Hall 1000 word voice over would probably be a bad call, but if you're going to make such a big deal about the length of the essay at the top of the film, then you at least need to address it. One line is all I need. "Well, this isn't quite 1000 words, but here goes..." Again, I am a crazy person, so keep that in mind.
Phew. Aren't you glad you weren't here in person for me to say all of this stuff to you?

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to tell me why I'm wrong.



Suzanne Yada said...

You're not wrong. I don't get the name either. It was way white (and a product of its time I'm sure). I love the movie but absolutely hate the ending. How the hell did it go from I Hate Your Guts to Let's Make Out with no explanation!?

The 1000 words deal... I'd just let that one go. Rambo gets shot at 1000 times and never dies. Whatever. Movies.

With all that aside, though, I just came across a blog post that might not have answers to your burning questions but still explains a side of John Hughes I didn't know about:

I think, no matter what you thought of The Breakfast Club, you'd appreciate it.

Sean Vernall said...

Thought you might be interested to know that the name came from New Trier High School where the students and staff named their saturday detention "The Breakfast Club" after the radio show of the same name (broadcast from Chicago between 1933 and 1968). John Hughes got the idea from the son of a friend who attended this school.

Whilst the 'breakfast club' were supposed to write individual essays of 1000 words in length, what Brian actually produces is a letter explaining why they have choosen not to write aforementioned essays.

What is most important about this letter is that it is read twice (once at the beginning and then at the end of the film) and that the subtle difference between these versions symbolises their journey and discovery that they are essentially the same. In the beginning version Brian reads:

" the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at seven o'clock this morning. We were brainwashed."

whilst in the second he and they read:

"...In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. What we found out is that each one of us is a brain an athlete a basket case a princess and a criminal Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club."

In the first version Brian confirms what Vernon sees that they each have an individual personality that sets them apart from each other "you see us as". In contrast the second version sees these seperate identities become components of a single identity that they all share "that each one us is a". Thus the need to sign as a group identity and not as individuals.

With regards the white thing i can only guess that this might be a representaion of a illinois high school during the 1980s in an area that is mainly populated by white families (Go easy on my assumption here as I'm from the UK and am only guessing).

I conclude by saying that i loved this film growing up in the 80s (together with 16 candles, pretty in pink, some kind of wonderful) and love it today (the dvd is in my collection). it is by far one of the best romances that captures the essence of what it was to be a teenager at that time. And to those who don't get the ending (Suzanne)i suggest you listen to more music by The Smiths and The Cure lol