Monday, February 8, 2016

St. Elmo's Fire

Year 8, Day 39 - 2/8/16 - Movie #2,240

BEFORE: Ally Sheedy carries over from "Betsy's Wedding", but you might wonder, why not just put the Molly Ringwald films together, ending with "Pretty in Pink", then cut to this one, since they share an actor?  Because then I couldn't have included "One From the Heart" and "Secretary", believe me, I tried that route, and it didn't work.  
TCM's Oscar-nominated programming continues, here's a look at tomorrow, Feb. 9's films:

Michael Pate carries over from "The Singing Nun" to:
"All the Brothers Were Valiant" with Stanley Andrews carrying over to:
"Meet John Doe" with Gary Cooper carrying over to:
"The Hanging Tree" with Maria Schell carrying over to:
"The Mark" with Paul Rogers carrying over to:
"Billy Budd" with Peter Ustinov carrying over to:
"Logan's Run" with Michael York carrying over to:
"Cabaret" with Marisa Berenson carrying over to:
"Barry Lyndon" with Patrick Magee carrying over to:
"A Clockwork Orange" with Miriam Karlin carrying over to:
"The Entertainer" with Laurence Olivier carrying over to:
"That Hamilton Woman"

I've seen only 3 of those 11 films ("Logan's Run", "Cabaret" and "A Clockwork Orange"), but I'm going to record "Meet John Doe", to go along with "Sergeant York".  I probably should record "Barry Lyndon", one of just two Kubrick films I've never seen, but I can't add more than one film every two days, or the list will start growing out of control again.  So the score is now 33 films seen, 68 unseen, with 2 added to the list.  

THE PLOT:  A group of friends, just out of college, struggle with adulthood.

AFTER: If people really want to get to the bottom of why Hollywood doesn't seem to make many movies about people of color, they've got to go back into the archives.  Like, all the way back, to the 1980's at least.  I mean, we KNOW people were racist back in the 1910's, 1930's, 1950's, but we thought we were at least enlightened in the 1980's.  But then you see a film like "St. Elmo's Fire", about 7 very white people having very white problems, and you realize there's a more subtle form of racism, which is just non-inclusion.  I guarantee there it was never even considered to make this film more reflective of minority demographics, or for that matter to feature even one person of color.   

Don't get me wrong, if this is the story a filmmaker wants to tell - 7 white friends fall in and out of love with each other - he or she has every right to tell that story.  Because forced inclusion, some kind of affirmative action for casting minorities, would be just as wrong as accidental exclusion.  There should be some kind of check in the system, I admit, to make sure that this is exactly the story that person wants to tell, or to see if there's any wiggle room to find a role for a black or Latino actor somewhere.  I agree the film industry as a whole needs to do something, otherwise we'll just keep ending up with films like "St. Elmo's Fire" and "Pretty in Pink", which are only collectively telling one part of the human experience.  

(Jeez, at least "Betsy's Wedding" got a little ethnic with the half-Jewish family, but this is just a film about rich, entitled white yuppies and their problems.)   

Don't get me wrong, here - I don't think everything should go swimmingly for these entitled white people, because that wouldn't make for a very interesting movie, either.  But they don't have problems like "How am I going to pay the rent?" or "How can I keep my family safe?", it's more like "Should I switch from pre-law to pre-med?" or "Can I accept a job working for a Republican congressman, if I've always been a Democrat?"  Really, I feel your pain.  (Not really.)

But it's in the romance department that these 7 friends are the most screwed up.  I guess with three girls and four guys in the group, they can't even pair up properly without someone always being left out.  (Time to find another female to hang out with...)  Even within the group of 7 there's the classic love triangle of Alec, Leslie and Kevin - it seems there was an opportunity to do something ground-breaking and maybe have Kevin pine for Alec instead of Wendy, but it seems like that got nixed.  Then there's another triangle formed with Wendy, Billy and Billy's wife (she's not part of the 7) and then later it's almost Jules, Billy and Billy's wife for a while.  (another abandoned plotline, though)  

That leaves Kirby, chasing after a girl he once dated who he re-connects with at the hospital, after a contrivance brings the group of friends there.  This eventually turns into ANOTHER love triangle, so that makes three, almost four, triangles driving the plot.  Now, with most love triangles in most films, you can't keep that tension going forever, you've got to resolve the situation one way or the other.  But not "St. Elmo's Fire", I guess they figured that anyone making a choice of one person over another was too simplistic, too pat, so really, in the end, not much of anything ever gets resolved.  

It's OK, I can deal with all that, though honestly it does seem somewhat lazy from a screenwriting point of view.  What's worse is using the weather phenomena of ball lightning seen on sailing ships as a metaphor for what's going on inside these people's hearts.  It's the most tenuous of contrived connections, just because they all drink in a place called "St. Elmo's Bar" that allows them to say, "Hey, that's what's going on inside of us, man, electric flashes of light that appear out of nowhere..." and "The sailors made it up because they thought they needed it to keep them going when times got tough, just like you're making up all of this.  We're all going through this."  

Give me a break.  It's dime-store fortune-cookie advice, based off of ball lightning?  The only way I can explain it is, people took a lot of cocaine in the 1980's, and you'd have to be high to say a bunch of philosophical crap like that.  Or you'd have to be SO high that you felt like you had lightning inside of you.  OK, so only one character here is shown snorting coke, but believe me, most of these Brat Pack actors were coked-up at the time.  A fair guess would be that out of the film's $10 million budget, $2 million of that was spent on recreational pharmaceuticals.   (In the scene set at the ski-house, that's not snow...)

NITPICK POINT: So, Jules (played by Demi Moore, who, no lie, had to go to rehab to get clean enough to play a coke addict...) gets in over her head with credit card debt.  She's got a great apartment, great furniture, the walls are painted bright pink with a big mural of Billy Idol.  Then the bills come due, and we see her later in an empty apartment, and everything's bare, including the walls.  How did the bank repossess the mural?  Did they scrape it off the wall and repaint the wall pink?  I get that this was done to make the place look more bare, but it makes no sense.  

I can only really accept this film as a primer for what NOT to do in relationships - like "Don't cheat on your partner" and "If you DO cheat on your partner, you can't be upset when they cheat, too".  Or maybe "If you start stalking a woman, maybe check and see if she's at all into you first."  Or how about,  

Also starring Rob Lowe (last seen in "The Interview"), Demi Moore (last seen in "Flawless"), Emilio Estevez (last seen in "Another Stakeout"), Judd Nelson (last seen in "The Breakfast Club"), Andrew McCarthy (last seen in "Pretty in Pink"), Mare Winningham (last seen in "Wyatt Earp"), Andie MacDowell (last seen in "Sex, Lies & Videotape"), Martin Balsam (last seen in "Psycho"), Joyce Van Patten, Jenny Wright, Blake Clark (last heard in "Eight Crazy Nights"), Matthew Laurance, Gina Hecht.

RATING: 5 out of 10 greeting card stores

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