Ferris Bueller was the original lifehacker, decades before that was even a thing. Any kid (or adult, for that matter) who has seen John Hughes' iconic film Ferris Bueller's Day Off—whether back in 1986 when it first came out, or in the nearly 30 years since its release—was probably struck by the same thought: How can I rig my room to fool people into thinking I'm home sick so I can spend the day doing whatever I want?
Toronto artists Sarah Keenlyside and Joe Clement are bringing this fantasy one step closer to reality: They've constructed an exact replica of Ferris' bedroom, including all the ephemera and even a working IBM computer from that era, in the Gladstone Hotel as part of the venue's Come Up to My Room immersive art exhibition. The friends and collaborators (they have matching tattoos) scoured eBay and crowdsourced the materials, and spent a ridiculous amount of time rewatching the film. The result is a pretty epic mindfuck of nostalgia and teenage fantasy.
VICE: So what's your relationship with Ferris Bueller's Day Off?
Sarah Keenlyside: I'm very much of the era of the movie. I saw it in the theater. So I've always talked about the room as kind of a portal, particularly from the analog age into the digital age. Ferris had an awesome computer and was able to change his absence days at school, and I was like, 'How is that possible?' And there are all these little details in the room that stuck with me and made me feel like something important was happening in there.
Ferris himself is kind of this idealized version of a teenager who's hardly even a person and more just a force that affects all the other characters, so the room is really the ultimate representation of a teenager's room.
Keenlyside: It really resonates with people. When we started doing research on it, there are so many blogs dedicated to this room. And there's been all this analysis, like Wired did a story about all of his stereo equipment. I probably wouldn't have been able to figure it out except for the fact that the story existed. It made it easier, but it also made it harder because there was so much known about it and you couldn't just fudge it. I think the Ferrisimilitude/verisimilitude really matters, because if it was just any old stereo equipment, or any old poster, it wouldn't be the same. Joe Clement: It would lose its import. It would be a rip-off as opposed to a recreation and would lack any sense of emotion. It would be a half-assed attempt at doing something that doesn't really connect to anybody. So i think it's important to have that authenticity as much as possible.
You crowdsourced a lot of this stuff, but can you talk about the process of collecting everything.
Keenlyside: In my naivete, I thought that in a collectible world and through the magic of eBay that all these things could be found. I really thought that people would still have these posters. But I assume that the people who have these posters don't want to let them go. In some cases, I couldn't even find references for the posters other than the movie. In many cases I mocked them up.
My favorite story is the computer, and to me it's the most touching. I'd been looking on eBay because Ferris had an IBM 5160 computer, which was made in 1985. You could find bits and pieces, but when you add up shipping and all that and the possibility of things being broken, it was really starting to stress me out. But then I started googling to see if there was some awesome nerd who's kept these things. And I found that guy: he runs the personal computer museum in Brantford, his name is Syd Bolton. He has dozens of old functioning computers. I called him and he was like "I'm a huge Ferris fan, I'll see if I can help you out." And he let me walk out of his museum with one of his prized computers. And not only that, he programmed it so it will count down the absences and has Ferris's student card information on it. He said that when he finished the program and had to save it, he wrote "Save Ferris" and was like, 'Oh my god!' Such serendipity.
Why do you think people are so obsessed with the room? Like you said, there are blogs and articles dedicated to it, and someone even made a map of Ferris's travels during that day. In researching all that, did it help you understand that appeal?
Keenlyside: I think my age group especially, is a very nostalgic generation. And I think that comes down to the fact that so much has changed. I think now, time is accelerating, our progress is accelerating. I used to watch a lot of 80s shows and movies because they didn't have cellphones or the internet. But as I said, this room is a portal to that because [Ferris] had a kind of internet connection and a cellphone, but approached it with an innocence that we don't have today. We're like, ugh, my iPhone doesn't work. We take it for granted. But I remember seeing his early tech on the screen and it was like magic, like how the hell is he changing his absence dates.
He's kind of like the original lifehacker. So, yeah, his room is stocked full of cool shit, but then he breaks it apart and uses it to accomplish his needs—fooling his parents and hacking into the school system. So as much as there's nostalgia here, I think what people identify with is someone who's fighting against the world that they're in.
Keenlyside: Well, nobody likes the rules, right? For me, I'm a freelancer, as is Joe, because we're not really that happy with the way things are generally done. And I think for Ferris—do you ever once question that kid will become something awesome in his life? Maybe he'll peak in high school, but something tells me that he's a special character, a will be a special person for his whole life. And that's partly because he's willing to buck the system and not let the man get him down. Ferris just gets away with it because people love that about other people. To me, it's what people aspire to be but say, "Oh, I could never get away with that." For both Joe and me, that's why this character and this room represent so much to us.
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