The stories behind the most memorable songs found in Broadway musicals or Hollywood films
It is really difficult to nitpick at a man like John Hughes. His filmography reads like an honour roll of the best and/or most popular films of the 1980s and 90s. For example, he wrote the script and/or directed all of the following classic films: Uncle Buck, Home Alone, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and, of course, today’s featured film, Pretty in Pink. Not only did Hughes gain fame for himself as a director, but he also helped to establish the careers of many young Hollywood actors, such as Emilio Estevez, Mare Winningham, Michael Anthony-Hall, Macaulay Culkin, Matthew Broderick, Judd Nelson, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe and Molly Ringwald, just to name a few. John Hughes seemed to have a magician’s touch when it came to his ability to present the world of children and teenagers with a sense of realism and respectfulness. Through his films, Hughes was able to touch upon the childhood dream of living a life without rules and then counterbalance it with an exploration of accepting the responsibility for your subsequent actions. He was also able to take us into the world of high school and help us to understand the inner angst that comes from trying to navigate the social world of teenage life. John Hughes’ films were at times funny, action packed and often poignant, too. He is considered one of the most successful directors of the past half century for a reason. So, how did one of his movies…Pretty in Pink…seemingly get so much wrong?! In today’s post we are going to take a closer look at a film that appears to have gotten some of the character relationships wrong, needed a reshoot of the ending and uses a song as its title track that, at first glance, doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with the storyline of the film. And yet, Pretty in Pink continues to be held up as a model of what a great teen movie should be. So, get your swim trunks on and come with me as I take a deeper dive into the story of one of the most misunderstood songs and films of all time. This is the story of Pretty in Pink.
For those who may not be familiar with the storyline of Pretty in Pink, here is a quick summary. The movie is set in high school as the annual prom approaches. Molly Ringwald plays a girl named Andie. She has a male friend named Duckie who is played by Jon Cryer. Duckie has feelings for Andie, but she has placed him clearly in the “friend zone”. Instead of returning Duckie’s sincere affection, Andie has her eyes set on a preppy boy named Blane played by Andrew McCarthy. Blane’s best friend is a fellow “richie” named Steff, who is played by James Spader. Steff once asked Andie out and was rebuffed. Since that time, he has made it his mission to mock her at every turn. As the movie plays out, Andie and Blane get together and agree to go to the prom as a couple, but Blane is getting ridden unmercifully by his friend Steff about it and Andie is embarrassed about Blane seeing where she lives, the state of her dress and so on, all because she comes from a lower-class section of town. The contrast between the socio-economic classes that Andie/Duckie come from compared to that which Steff and Blane come from propels the plotline forward and provides most of the dramatic tension of the film. As the movie reaches its climactic scene, those characters whose hearts were true are taken care of nicely, while those in need of a comeuppance get that, too. I won’t give away the ending except to say that when the film was officially released, it left audiences with a satisfied feeling. Thus, the reputation of Pretty in Pink as being a classic in the teen movie genre was born. However, if we go back to how this film even came to be in the first place, you will see that it is a movie that was built upon misconceptions that damaged/helped the career of the band, The Psychedelic Furs, that confused members of the cast and that caused the ending of the movie to have to be re-shot long after production had wrapped up and the actors had moved on to other projects.
The movie, itself, was inspired by a song of the same name by one of the original New Wave bands, The Psychedelic Furs. In 1981, the band released an album called Talk, Talk, Talk. On that album was a song called “Pretty in Pink”. Way back in 1981, New Wave, Punk Rock and Alternative were the emerging trends across the western world when it came to music. Bands such as Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, Talking Heads, R.E.M., Tears for Fears, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees and many more were what the “cool kids” were listening to. One of those cool kids was a young actress named Molly Ringwald. She had heard the song “Pretty in Pink” at a party. She thought that the song told an interesting story and brought it to director John Hughes to listen to. At the time, Ringwald had completed Sixteen Candles with Hughes and was wrapping up work on The Breakfast Club. As she handed a cassette of the song to Hughes, she remarked that she thought this could be the basis of their next movie together. This is where things begin to get murky. The story goes that Hughes listened to the song that Ringwald gave to him. Apparently, he agreed with her that there was the nugget of a movie contained within the lyrics of this song. So, off he went. When he came back a few weeks later, he had a draft of a script that ended up becoming the movie, Pretty in Pink. The problem with that is the story contained within the lyrics of the song is nothing at all like the story Hughes wrote for the movie. What Hughes ended up doing was akin to listening to a Christmas carol and then writing an Easter movie.
The original version of the song “Pretty in Pink” by The Psychedelic Furs is about a girl named Caroline. Caroline is a popular girl at school. She is popular, in part, because she is sexually promiscuous. In fact, the phrase “pretty in pink” is actually a derogatory phrase that means that a girl is prettiest to boys when she is pink or naked. Because she is constantly surrounded by the boys at her school, Caroline begins to believe that she is really “all that”. In fact, the boys regard her with disdain because she is such an easy mark, as it were. Behind her back, they are all laughing at her and about her. The song explored the question of who is really controlling the situation. Was it Caroline by taking control of her sexual experiences or was it the boys who were happy to let her believe that she was the one on top, so to speak? The 1981 version that first appeared on The Psychedelic Furs albums was rough and raw and sounded completely in tune with the sound of many other New Wave bands at the time. Through the first half of the 1980s The Psychedelic Furs enjoyed some modest success with songs such as “Love My Way”, “Heaven” and “The Ghost In You”, but they never exploded to the top of the charts the way some other bands did. Consequently, when they were approached by John Hughes about using their song as the title track for his latest movie, there was some sense that what happened to Simple Minds with the song “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” for The Breakfast Club movie was about to happen for them with “Pretty in Pink”.
Feeling that their big break was about to happen, the band agreed to lend their song to Hughes for his new movie. Immediately, they were informed that they would have to re-record their song in order to make it “more suitable” for a mass audience. Making the song “more suitable” meant polishing the rough edges off of the song and making it sound more like a Pop song. To their original fan base, going “Pop” was essentially selling out. By opting for a more commercial sound, many fans felt that the band was turning its back on its roots. But, if the members of The Psychedelic Furs had any internal debates about whether to go “commercial” or not with their song, those doubts and debates disappeared in a negative way when they finally were able to watch the movie. When the movie came out and they saw that it had absolutely nothing at all to do with the story they were telling in their song, they felt a sense of betrayal and embarrassment. There is no one named Caroline in the movie. Molly Ringwald’s character is not promiscuous at all. In fact, Ringwald has been quoted as saying that she always felt a great moral responsibility to portray her characters in a certain way because she knew that her onscreen actions would have real-life ramifications for many teenage girls. So, even though the song “Pretty in Pink” is the title track for the movie, it has absolutely nothing to do with what actually transpires on screen. This left The Psychedelic Furs in a precarious position. As predicted, the popularity of the film, along with the success of the movie soundtrack brought a level of attention to the band that they may never have achieved on their own. But, they were left with the dilemma of debating how much they valued their integrity as a band. To their credit, they have publicly disavowed how their song was used in the movie. However, they continue to play the revised version in concert and collect royalties from the song to this very day so…..
The other aspect of this movie that sits funny is the ending. SPOILER ALERT TIME!!!! If you have never watched the movie and feel that you may wish to as a result of this post, then please stop reading now and begin again at the start of the next paragraph….off you go! Bye for now….ok, good! For those of you still with me, the ending of the movie was problematic for the cast and for test audiences as well. It is a fairly common plot line to have one character seek true love with another all the while not realizing that the one who truly loves them is the quiet “friend”-type who has been there all along and who the original character has never thought of in that way. Well, there were many who felt that Andie and Duckie were meant to find each other while the prom unfolded at the end of the movie and, in fact, that was the original ending. Initially, the closing scene had Andie and Blane having a falling out and Duckie showing up at just the opportune time to allow her to finally see that he was the one for her all along and that the preppy boy was never her true match. However, when test audiences watched the film, they were dismayed that Andie never got to be with the one that she wanted all along. So, months after production had wrapped, the final scenes were reshot and the movie now had a happy ending for Andie and Blane. In order to not leave Duckie heartbroken, a new love interest was provided for him at the last second as a bystander emerged from a crowd and asked him to dance. Because his love for Andie was true, he now let her leave for her beloved while he turned to this new girl and went with her. That is how Pretty in Pink ends in the version that most people saw in theatres and in their homes on their VCRs or on DVD.
In many ways, the dilemma over the way the movie ended is exactly what the original song by The Psychedelic Furs was about. Pretty in Pink (the movie) and “Pretty in Pink” (the original song) both pivot on the central idea of which character is getting to control the narrative. In both the song and the movie, when the story is told from the woman’s perspective, the woman gets what she wants in the end. When the story is told from the perspective of the men in the story, the men get what they want at the expense of what the woman may have really wanted deep down inside. So, even though the lyrics of the song and the script of the movie have their great differences, the central idea of allowing the story of the female character to be told in the end is what helped make the movie and the song both resonate so much at the time. John Hughes passed in 2009, so he is not around to shed any light upon the decision-making that went into his film. So, it is left to us to debate whether or not he knew all along that he was going for a figurative retelling of the song handed to him by Molly Ringwald instead of a literal retelling. Perhaps it is a case that he made a mess of things and did his best to straighten everything out in the end, which many believe he managed to do. Regardless of which take you believe, the decisions that John Hughes made along the way had consequences for many who were involved in the project.
For Jon Cryer (as Duckie), he didn’t have the big romantic lead breakout role he envisioned, which, in many ways, lead to his casting as Allan, the unlucky in love sidekick to suave Charlie Sheen’s character in the TV show, Two and a Half Men. The Psychedelic Furs had to deal with the problem of their most commercially successful song always being a version that was never their original intent and which seemed to portray the band in a way that alienated them from their fan base. As mentioned earlier, their response was to swallow their pride and accept the push to their careers provided for them by the magical hand of John Hughes. Molly Ringwald deserves credit for her taste in music back in the day. Without that, one of the best movie soundtracks of all time would never have seen the light of day. As for her career, that trio of John Hughes movies was the apex of her time in the Hollywood spotlight. But, having said that, Ringwald has had steady work over the years in all sorts of projects ranging from being the voice of Darla on the animated children’s show Doc McStuffins, to appearing as a cast member on the show Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life, to making a star turn on the recent mini-series about the life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. In the end, I guess that the world of Pretty in Pink did a pretty good job of capturing the ins and outs and the ups and downs of life. Perhaps, instead of nitpicking at a man like John Hughes, he is actually deserving of much credit for a job well done.
The link to the video for the song “Pretty in Pink” by The Psychedelic Furs as used in the movie, Pretty in Pink, can be found here.
The link to the video for the trailer to the movie Pretty in Pink can be found here.
The link to the video for the entire official soundtrack to the movie Pretty in Pink can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Psychedelic Furs can be found here.
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