Autoportrait (Ferris in the Red Ferrari)

‘The period between the wars did indeed mark the end of the happy days of the fantasists, dreamers, utopians, creatives and the avant garde…They were coming to be regarded as people lacking the proper civic attitudes, egoists indulging in their private games…’*

This quote is from a book about the artist Tamara de Lempicka, who was a Google Doodle earlier this month on what would have been her 120th birthday. It reminded me of Ferris Buellers’ Day Off, which I watched a couple of days ago. Ferris says to camera:

‘Isms, in my opinion, are not good. A person should not believe in an ism, he should believe in himself.’

Not even capitalism? Not even Cubism? In a later scene, Ferris’ girlfriend asks his best friend what he’s interested in. ‘Nothing!’ is the reply. ‘Me neither!’ is the cheery endorsement.

Pardon me for looking at the film as a whole and trying to reduce it to a core message, a label, an ism, but aren’t these messages contradictory and depressing? What is believing in yourself if you’re not interested in developing yourself? European socialism may not have been immediately relevant to a teenager in mid-80s Chicago, but perhaps what happened in Europe several decades ago had at least some influence on the wonderful paintings that Ferris and friends go to see at the museum. From the aforementioned book on Lempicka:

‘All these isms, from expressionism and fauvism to Dadaism, surrealism…’

Ferris would have sneered at the mention. An ism encapsulates a substantial period of time in the past, and Ferris doesn’t do the past: it’s all about now (not carpe diem – too European for him). And I would be OK with this if there was at least some acknowledgement in the film that what other people do is important, and that life is more than the pursuit of pleasure. Again, this about Lempicka:

‘…Thus giving her everything which she had always craved, namely a title and a lot of money.’

But I don’t mind Lempicka’s Gatsby fantasy as much as I do Ferris’ because at least she had a talent and was prepared to work at it. Ferris is an egoist indulging in a private game, yet we are meant to root for him. I had been rooting for his mate until his smug shrug ‘nothing’ comment. They are lacking the proper civic attitudes! But it’s a film about escapism! But, yeah, whatever…


*Lempicka, Benedickt Taschen, 1993


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