‘I was born in the US but, weirdly, I’ve hardly seen anything of the US. At the risk of stating the teeth-bleeding obvious, America is a big country so you can’t just jump in your car and check out California, especially if you live in New York. Instead, my childhood holidays were spent visiting the same places over and over again as we rode the merry-go-round of visits to relatives: one grandmother and grandfather in Miami, another grandmother in Ohio, cousins in Washington DC and Seattle. Those cities I came to know very well. I also got to know, a little, Aspen, where my parents occasionally took me skiing, and Maine, where I went to summer camp. But that, I’m ashamed to say, is pretty much where my knowledge of America ended. It wasn’t until I started working for a (British) newspaper that I even went to Los Angeles, at the age of 27, when I was sent there to interview a celebrity.
So it is with some embarrassment that I admit that I didn’t visit Chicago until I was 30. This is weird for two reasons. First, Chicago is a major city by anyone’s reckoning, certainly up there with New York and Miami. Second, and definitely more importantly to me, so many of my favourite movies were set in or around Chicago, so you’d think I’d have motivated myself to visit it sooner. John Hughes’ teen films, which I remain completely obsessed with at the age of 37, are all set around Chicago as Hughes himself spent his teenage years in a suburb of the city. So it was with no little excitement, and a certain amount of amazement with myself, that I finally arrived in the city as I was just stepping into my fourth decade.
It so happened that my trip coincided with the end of the 2008 US election, in which a young and little known former community organizer from Chicago called Barack Obama was running. Well, I say “it so happened”, but that was actually the reason I was there in the first place as I thought it might be fun to write about the city for the newspaper that pays my wages on the night of the election results. But by the time I arrived I was absolutely convinced that Obama would lose and everything would be depressing (there are many reasons I am not a political forecaster. Or a psychic.) So I told my travelling companion that there was NO WAY I was going to Grant Park that night, where Obama would give either his victory or concession speech that night. Instead, I wanted to go hide out in the Art Institute of Chicago.
As all Hughes fans will know, Art Institute of Chicago is the setting for the greatest Hughes scene from the greatest Hughes movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In that film, Ferris takes his girlfriend, Sloane, and best friend, Cameron, to the museum and this prompts the beautiful musical montage featuring the three kids looking at some of the finest art in the world while the Dream Academy play an instrumental version of The Smiths’ ‘Please Please Please Please, Let Me Get What I Want’ on the soundtrack. I love this scene so much and, to my Hughes-loving mind, it is a piece of art on a par with anything in the gallery. Hughes himself called the scene “very self-indulgent” and admitted that, like so much of his teen films, it had its roots in autobiography, as he used the museum as “a sanctuary” during his own teenage years. At that moment, with the prospect of a John McCain-Sarah Palin presidency staring my in the face, I felt in need of a sanctuary.
However, my travelling companion pointed out that (a) the museum would probably be closed at night so (b) we could go to the gallery during the day and then Grant Park at night. So that’s exactly what we did. I ran around the museum, ticking off the paintings that feature in the film (I was especially excited to spot Mary Cassatt’s The Child’s Bath, although a little gutted that the stained glass gallery, where Ferris and Sloane snog in the film, was temporarily closed.) It was absolutely thrilling. What, for the art? Oh sure, that was fine. But the main thing was that I’d come as close as I could to stepping inside one of the greatest films ever made.
And – oh yeah – I went to Grant Park that night to watch Barack Obama concede the presidency to John McCain. Well, you all know how that ended.’
Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman is out now!
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