If a teenager truly believes he's the center of the universe, the very core of that world is his bedroom. The bedroom is the teen's domain, a safe space for self-expression, a place where identities can be explored, constructed, and put on semi-public display.
As the teen whisperer of the 1980s, director John Hughes grasped the fundamental cultural importance of the adolescent room. Which is why bedroom scenes featuring Andie or Duckie from Pretty in Pink
or Samantha from Sixteen Candles
or Gary from Weird Science
command uncommon attention: the band posters and records and ephemera are a tidy form of character exposition, hints of his or her place in the crucial high school caste system.
In Ferris Bueller's Day Off
, the titular truant's suburban Chicago bedroom spoke to his standing as a roguish Renaissance almost-man. A worn copy of Jack Kerouac's The Town and the City
rests on a Fender Bassman guitar amplifier beside his bed. The posters on his walls suggest the discriminating taste of a record store clerk: UK artists such as Blancmange, Cabaret Voltaire, Bryan Ferry, and Simple Minds. He has a fondness for fine electronics, including an IBM Personal Computer XT, an E-Mu Emulator synthesizer, and Carver and AudioSource stereo equipment—all top of the line.
The stuff in Ferris Bueller's room always fascinated Sarah Keenlyside. She first saw FBDO
as a 13-year-old when it premiered in 1986. "There are a lot of cultural layers to his bedroom, and things that were significant in terms of a technological turning point," she says. "Maybe it resonated with me because I was in a generation on the cusp—I learned how to type on a typewriter, but we also concurrently had computers."
Last year, the Toronto filmmaker and nascent artist decided, with the help of collaborator Joseph Clement, to meticulously reconstruct Ferris's bedroom. They scoured Craigslist and Ebay, crowdsourced items that were particularly hard to find, borrowed pieces from project supporters, and recreated materials that proved impossible to track down. Keenlyside and Clement first showed their Bueller bedroom last January at Toronto's Gladstone Hotel during the exhibit "Come Up to My Room." It's currently on display at the Virgin Hotel
as part of Ferris Fest
, a 30th anniversary celebration of FBDO
featuring film location tours, screenings, and cast appearances throughout the weekend. From here, Keenlyside will take it to the Niagara Falls Comic Con in June.
"It's funny—this is kind of Ferris's Facebook profile right here," she said the other day during an interview in the reconstructed room. "Bedrooms were the first MySpace. You came over to someone's room, and it was all their music tastes and pictures of their friends. It also speaks to Ferris's wealth: this is tens of thousands of dollars of shit here. Like the computer and the synthesizer were each about $8,000 when they were released. Depeche Mode used that keyboard! It's pretty out-there fantasy stuff. Not every teen in the Chicago suburbs had this."
Sarah Keenlyside, one of the artists behind the Ferris Bueller bedroom recreation
In many of his 80s movies, John Hughes took his personal interests in pop culture and hung them on his teen characters. He was a fan of Bryan Ferry and Cabaret Voltaire, and so those became Ferris's favorites.
A lot of people have said that there's an incongruity between Ferris's character and his tastes. Here's a guy who is not traditionally "cool," but he's not a goth either.
Ferris is not Duckie.
He's not Duckie. And it's kind of like, What? Why is he listening to this stuff?
One of the theories is that this is John Hughes's idealized teenage room. It's also said that the room in some ways had a relationship with the room of the actual boy who lived in the house where Hughes shot the exteriors of the Bueller family home, which was in California. The teenage son had a lot of posters everywhere.
But a lot of things are at work in the bedroom. One of the most significant is that this was one of the first eras in which we began engaging with technology in a way that foreshadowed our present. It was like a portal to the digital age. I was 13 when I first saw Ferris Bueller's Day Off
, and Ferris had an Internet. I remember thinking the movie was lying. Like, you can't remotely hack the school computer! I wouldn't have even known the word "hack." He had a cordless phone, he had this synthesizer, the E-mu Emulator, with which you could program sampled sounds using floppy disks. There's this feeling in the bedroom of being on the cusp of a new technological age, and I don't think there's another movie where the digital era was approached as innocently. Now it's this pervasive, kind of nightmarish thing.
Ferris used technology to his advantage in playful ways.
He was the hacker, he was the one bucking the system, instead of the system trying to find out every single bit of information about us.
The band posters on display—was it difficult to locate replicas of ones from the 1980s?
For months, I was under the impression that I could buy the band posters. When I first did the room recreation in Canada, the hotel where I was doing it announced it, and some guy commented, "I'd really like to see her find that Cabaret Voltaire poster. I've been searching for it since 1989." So I was like, "Alright, buddy. Watch me!" Then I couldn't find it, and I was panicking and trying to figure it out. But you can see dotted around the room the albums that are associated with it, so we just scanned the album art, blew it up, made the color better, and tried to make it as a close as we could.
There are only two posters in this room that are actually real: the Charlie Sexton poster and the Rave-Ups poster, which wasn't in the movie, but I'd rather have some real things in the style of the room. John Hughes loved the Rave-Ups; there were so many references to them in his movies. The Jah Wobble, the Edge and Holger Czukay Snake Charmer
EP poster—that is printed from an image I found online.
Even the baseball cards exhibited are of the era.
They may be a little later. There's the Fender Bassman amp that Ferris had next to his bed. Most things are pretty on target.
Is the room perfectly to scale?
It's close. We've compressed the window. But most of it is to scale. And we know that because of the standard widths of windows, the standard size of posters. We were like, "OK, a standard large-size poster is whatever, a standard door size height is . . ." So it's kind of scale. But it had to be compressed because this room is too short.
Did recreating Ferris's room make you respect the film's careful set design?
It did in a way that was totally unexpected. There are motifs in this room that I can only take so far, just because some of the objects are kind of obscure. There is a very strong cowboy theme to this room. I was obsessing over the blanket on his bed, like, "It's gotta be some kind of cheap '80s fleece blanket." And then I was like, "No, it's actually a 1940s camp blanket, like a Pendleton blanket." Then I realized all of the lamps had these parchment lampshades. The ones in the movie have little country scenes painted on them.
The cowboy elements speak to a teenager's bedroom, because there are traces of your childhood that remain.
My new theory is that Ferris is Prince Hal from Henry IV
. It's his last day off before becoming an adult. He's about to graduate and he's just having this crazy-ass day with his friends. So I was feeling a Henry IV
/Prince Hal connection there.
A boy on the edge of manhood.
Right, so there are vestiges of childhood. He has a computer, which maybe foreshadows a career in the future. Obviously his dad is some kind of titan of business, the family lives in this fancy house. Ferris is on the cusp of manhood, and that's why I think the room resonates. It's a room that's been considered so deeply. Even the idea of having a red phone—there's something presidential about it.
Was it difficult locating the E-mu Emulator synthesizer on which Ferris plays "On the Beautiful Blue Danube" using sampled coughs, belches, and other bodily noises?
It was hard to find one I could afford. I borrowed one in Toronto. It didn't really belong to the guy who lent it to me. He had told his friend he could fix it, but he lent it to me anyway. I really wanted to program the coughs into it. It was my goal. Sadly, to buy a really tricked-out one is, like, $5,000. But I spent about $1,800 on this, and the guy didn't even know if it worked or not. And it didn't. But David, the organizer, picked it up in LA and he brought it to a guy I found who could fix it, but the guy was like, "It needs thousands of dollars of work." That was a bummer.
The stereo setup looks very accurate.
It's exact. The only thing is I've never been able to find certain components in black. In the movie some look black to me, but these have this charcoal-silver look. Even with the AudioSource EQ-One equalizer, there's a second one a half generation past the one in the movie that's embossed with "Special Edition." There were tons of those, and I refused. It took forever, but I had to find the real one. The CD player—the first time around I didn't have the real one, but I found it. It's fun to have it all. Anything that had a scene attached to it, I really wanted to find.
Were you doing a lot of pausing and screen-grabbing of the movie in order to figure out exactly which items were used?
Yeah, and people had written blogs about it. Wired did a great article
about all of Ferris's tech. That article was a huge help. I was just really vigilant. Once I got going, I got more and more obsessed. I didn't really know I had that in me.
Obviously there's a lot of interest in a Ferris Bueller bedroom recreation from a pop-cultural perspective. It's no surprise fans of the film are intrigued. But what interested you as an artist about this project?
I definitely came at it from a cultural theory point of view as opposed to that of a fangirl. I love the movie, but I probably wouldn't go to Ferris Fest if not for this project. I'm thrilled to be here and really respect what they're doing, and I love that people love things so deeply. But . . .
But it's not like Ferris Bueller's Day Off is your favorite movie.
No. How this came about was, I'd helped produce another project with the artist Douglas Coupland a few years back, "Museum of the Rapture."
It was a huge prop-based project. There were three tableau vivant with 20 actors. We had a crashed car—like, I had a car custom crashed. We had projections and lighting effects and smoke effects, a pile of meat—it was insane! It was a part of Nuit Blanche in Toronto. I'd never in my life done any installation pieces. Doug was a very good friend of mine, and he was like, "I'm not sure how I'm going to do this in Toronto because I don't live there." And I was like, "I'll be your feet! I'll run around and do stuff for you." So I helped produce Doug's vision. It was so life-changing—we both consider it the best night of our lives. I got the bug for collecting and assembling things, as opposed to me painting a picture or making a sculpture. As a form, this is sort of "assemblage."
"It took a while to figure out the parachute fabric" over the windows, Keenlyside says. "It's actually a standard issue army parachute."
You'd seen the film in its first theatrical run?
I did. Everybody saw it. It was that kind of movie. I was 13. I think everybody, if they're of my age group, they'll sort of hazily remember the car crash and they'll also remember the last bit where he's like, "What are you doing here? Go away." I remember the Internet. I don't know if that's why I decided I wanted to do this. It wasn't a big thought process; it was something that came up very spontaneously because it had a powerful resonance for me.
I'm particularly in love with the computer and the leather horse chair
. These two things are big for me, mostly because they're connected to the kindness of strangers. Part of the art practice that I'm interested in pursuing more is involving people, because I think that art can be very opaque and unfriendly, and I like the idea of bringing in outside people to get involved in a project.
The computer came from a guy a from Brantford, Ontario—not a big town, childhood hometown of Wayne Gretzky. The guy's name is Syd Bolton. He owns a museum that he created called the Personal Computer Museum. I was searching for Ferris's computer [the IBM Personal Computer XT], and I found Syd after seeing a video online. We connected and hit it off, and the next thing you know I'm at his museum, walking out with this computer. He's just like, "Here you go," and I'm like, "Do you want me to send you insurance documents?" He was like, "Nah, just go ahead." He even programmed it for me [to mimic Ferris Bueller's school absentee record]. Which is insane because who can remember how to program a computer from the 80s?
Was it an exciting request for him?
Yeah, Ferris Bueller's Day Off
is one of his favorite movies. For one of his milestone birthdays, his brother rented a theater and did a screening of the film. So, really, my request was a perfect fit.
The horse chair has a Chicago connection. A lady from Cary, Illinois, sent me a message on Instagram, tagged me in a photo, and was like, "Hey, I know you're recreating Ferris's room, but do you have his horse chair?" She allowed me to borrow it, so I drove to Cary, which was just so idyllic and kind of felt like Ferris's area, maybe not quite as ultra-rich.
I love that you don't have to be an "artist" to be involved in art. Maybe that's because while collaborating with Doug I didn't consider myself an artist either. And one of the things that I will always carry with me is something he said: "I will come up with ten ideas and maybe seven of them are shitty and two of them are pretty good and one is awesome. But I try them all. I don't hesitate. I just do it." That's why with this project, I was like, "I don't give a shit—I'm just going to do it and see what happens." And a lot of weird stuff has happened.
You probably couldn't have predicted being in Chicago right now.
No. I didn't even know it was the 30th anniversary of the movie when I did it!