Friday, September 24, 2010

ST. ELMO’S FRIDAY, PT. IV: The Best & The Rightest

Who doesn’t regret the eighties to some extent?
Christine O'Donnell

Continuing our 10-minutes-at-a time breakdown of St. Elmo’s Fire, we realize our last post was a bit long in the wind. Here’s a short and sweeter one:


We’re in Alec & Leslie’s cavernous airplane hangar of a loft apartment; NIKE prints on the wall convince us they are “bohemians” who can only afford to take over the rent on an ex-sport shoe sweatshop. They are yuppies at the forefront of gentrification! This being the upwardly mobile, go-go 80s, we get the inadvertent political gospel of Alec Newbury: “If we can find the money, we can get the longer sofa!”

This is one of the first scenes where the filmmakers’ sense of unreality about how college kids – even G-town kids – live six months out of college begins to push the film into the realms of farce. I, for one, bought it hook line and sinker: Oh yes. THAT’S how I’ll be living… Imagine my chagrin. It was the chagrin shared by, of all people, the actor Jon “Ducky” Cryer, who told writer Susanna Gora he was “filled with rage” when he saw the pulled-from-the-pages-of-Vanity-Fair lifestyles of our young ragamuffins: “I would watch it and go, ‘Oh c’mon! They’re just out of college, they can’t have apartments like that, what happened to the cinder block bookshelves? Where are the milk crates? Where’s the futon?” Since this is a Joel Schumacher film, we can pretty much lay the responsibility for this visual fudging at his feet – just as Schumacher himself eventually did: “I felt that a lot of youth movies were given a cheap production because, what did it matter? They were just youth movies. And I thought, ‘Why not give young people movie stars, with great clothes and great sets and great cars? Glamour was very much a concept of mine.” And this was twelve years before he unleashed the candy-colored spectacle of Batman & Robin

In this scene, Young Master Alec* supposedly lays a smelly bombshell on Leslie: He has recently started moonlighting for someone named “Senator Hodges” – a REPUBLICAN. (In ’85, this was supposed to be a shock.) It turns out, Al seems to be jumping ship from poor Democratic Congressman “Pomerantz.” You gotta love those stodgy ol’ school D.C. political names.
*Judd Nelson on Alec: “He’s from the right side of the tracks…but I don’t think that guy knows the difference between right and wrong. He is looking out for himself."

All this talk of sofas and senators gets Alec and Leslie* hot – this despite Leslie’s decidedly unsexy pajamas, which looks like it should have a trapdoor on its butt. Leslie wants to use birth control, but...
*Other actresses considered to play Leslie: Jamie Lee Curtis, Bridget Fonda, Melanie Griffith, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sarah Jessica Parker, Meg Ryan, Brooke Shields, Elisabeth Shue

ALEC: We’re getting married soon. Let’s play some Russian roulette.
LESLIE: Right, and who do you think carries the bullet around for nine months?
ALEC: Senator Hodges?

Can’t believe how boring this scene is before Jules* shows up. With her chainsaw-like voice, she reveals a horrid story of her childhood: a woman she refers to as her “stepmonster,” who used to lock her in a closet when she was young, has gambled away all of her alimony from Jules’ father and is dying at “some scuzzy welfare hospital.” She left Jules’s name as her “Next of Kin” and it is now Jules’ responsibility to pay for her funeral. Jules is mortified! She pours her and Leslie a shot of Absolut! They confer in whispers like two schoolgirls about Alec becoming a Republican!
*Demi Moore on Jules: “She’s someone who doesn’t know how to take care of herself….It’s so easy to say you should ‘be responsible,’ but when someone really doesn’t know how, and is so afraid to be who she really is – and almost doesn’t know who she is, which is probably why she’s so afraid – that to be still for any amount of time means you have to feel those feelings, fear anxiety…and that hurts. She keeps moving and doesn’t really deal…she’s like a duck in water, it just keeps gliding along on the outside and on the inside she’s just paddling, trying to stay alive.”

Demi Moore, years before she became a brittle, sculpted MILFbot, always had a hardness to her: in voice, in mannerisms, in career ambition. Even at that young age, she was too edgy to be an actual cuddly “Brat Packer”, which is probably why she was never in a John Hughes film. As the much-told legend goes, a pissed-off Demi was stalking out of Hughes’ office after apparently being stood up for a casting meeting. Joel Schumacher and Carl Kurlander were writing the St. Elmo’s script down the hall and heard her indignant sandpaper voice and cast her on the spot. Turns out, Moore’s hardscrabble life was perfectly suited for the damaged diva that is Jules Van Patten*: her biological father left her mother two months before she was born; her stepfather committed suicide; she dropped out of high school at 16; she suffered close to 40 relocations and the ravages of parental alcoholism; she married a rock singer in her teens. She had a kidney ailment and surgery for a wandering eye. She showed up for her S.E.F. audition on a motorcycle.
*Other actresses considered to play Jules: Joan Cusack, Jodie Foster, Tatum O'Neal

Demi Moore interviewed in 1985 by Mrs. Cleaver:

Alec shuffles out of the bedroom with folded bedclothes that seem to have been set aside specifically for Jules.

JULES: You're always coming to my rescue. What can I say?
ALEC: I won't come between two old roommates.

Wuss. Now I KNOW you're a Republican.


Welcome to MTV Cribs with Kevin Dolenz!

We are in the prototypical post-collegiate “wine bottle” abode – named for the endless supply of empty Boone’s Farm wine bottles that are often used to prop open student-tenement windows during the heated summer months. (There are at least two wine bottles visible in this scene, including the half-empty one that Kevin is imbibing.) Period detail: numerous half-melted candles, tastefully battered old-school Underwood typewriter (with paper sheaf tucked in – is Kevin “in the midst of creating”?), tall pile of books and old newspapers, vertical stacks of old vinyl LPs, artfully tiled lamp means these boychiks are messy! The Mickey Mouse phone seems out of place, although Kevin would certainly have that as an “ironic” device.* We will learn later what a creepy place this really is. But for now, it’s your garden-variety bohemian squat, one that would surely make Bill O’Reilly puke. Posters of Woody Allen (in his floppy hated late 70s auteur look) and Allen’s films Manhattan and Stardust Memories. Kirbo will prove to be too much of fan of Annie Hall.
*Much of the stuff in Kev and Kirb’s apartment were the actual possessions of screenwriter Carl Kurlander

Kevin is playing bongos to Aretha’s “Respect” – a famous but phony scene. First off, has anyone ever dressed up in fedora and sunglasses and played bongos whilst air-banding? More accurate scene: totally naked with hair-brush mike or tennis-racket guitar, smelly Afro wig left over from last year’s Halloween party, dong flailing like an upside-down bobble head. It would make sense that Kevin would enjoy old 60s soul records – didn’t we all want some blackness the rub off on us for our “street cred”? (I remember air-banding to some pretty odd shit, like Box Scaggs’ “Lido Shuffle.” I know, I know, you don’t even have to say it…) Kevin seems embarrassed when Kirbo bursts in fresh from work, propping his motocross bike upside down on the wall hanger -- almost as if he’s been caught masturbating, which almost certainly would have happened in about 10 minutes had Kirbo not come home (there looks to be a box of Kleenex on the table by Kev’s wine glass). When I was caught airbanding, it always had that effect, embarrassment and a lame attempt to cover it up, as Kevin does when he asks his roomie: “Quick, what’s the meaning of life?” Kirbo repeats: “Dale Biberman” to him for the second time (the first was in the bar) and Kevin is finally discomfited enough to ask what the fuck he is talking about, if not in those words.

The Most Dangerous Man Alive: Kirby Keager

Both Estevez and McCarthy are immensely appealing in this scene. Many sensitive literary-minded 80s guys like myself could identify with the cynical edge of Kevin’s wit (“love sucks”), his innate defensiveness (“Who won [the sexual revolution]? Nobody!”), his nervous habits of smoking and pushing his hair back over his head, his claustrophobic fatalism (“All my characters die in the end”) and his Ragstock wardrobe. Kirbo, it would seem, would be the avatar for our inner romantic who’s just waiting to be swept away by loving a girl in a courtly, pining way. The thing is, Kirbo takes it to a different level. His very even-headness about what he is planning a testament to his abject insanity. I mean, how did he get Dr. Biberman’s hospital schedule? His behavior is shaping up to be the most problematic (obscured by Jules and FuckFace’s obvious shenanigans): he shows up at work at the St. Elmo’s Bar even after he’s been fired, laughing off his boss’ exasperation; he leaves work whenever he feels like to slip into hospital ER to impersonate an ambulance chaser—he is truly a frightening character in the evening news post-tragedy he-seemed-like-such-a-normal-guy interview kind of way. Kevin even references Kirbo’s habit of leaving “poorly written unmailed love scratchings”* around the house.” What we see here is a slow escalation of Kirbo’s psychopathic tendencies: in the past, he poured out his “love” to women but never actually got around to sending them. Now, he’s going right for the jugular: full frontal stalking!
*Andrew McCarthy on the role of Kevin: “It had a detachment, it had a sensitivity, with a ‘rotten before its ripe’ cynicism that was covering a thinly veiled, massive vulnerability. I was that boy at the time.”

Kevin responds to Kirbo's reverie with a sex-deprived conspiracy theory: “Love, love, you know what love is? Love is an illusion created by lawyer types like yourself to perpetuate another illusion called marriage to create the reality of divorce and then the illusionary need for divorce lawyers.”*
*In the closing credits, the producers thank something called Duck's Breath Mystery Theatre, a reference to the seminal West Coast comedy troupe who gave the world such memorable characters as quasi-hippie Randee of the Redwoods and pop culture critic Ian Sholes. Some of Kevin's more memorable lines were inspired by Shoales' bon mots.

Kirbo responds in kind: “You’re just pissed off ‘n’ bitter* because you haven’t had sex in, what, a year? Two years?”
*Pissed Off N’ Bitter: pub in Coventry, England; great egg & watercress sandwiches; Texans not served

The peaceful turn this scene has taken is ruined by FuckFace - it is truly amazing how many times in the film he does this. He just barges in a la Jules, looking coolly and elegantly wasted in his RayBan sunglasses held together with a safety pin (it’s night-time), sax strapped to his back like an M-16 rifle, gripping a bottle of some sort of brown liquor (with a paper bag over it, just to show us he’s hardcore): “I just can’t deal with the little missus,” he croaks. “Can I crash?” Kev and Kirb let him in a way that informs us: We do this all the time! To the left, Schumacher, wearing a chimney sweep's outfit, strokes his chin: “Crikey, did I make this obvious enough?”

If you think about it, this scene is an exact repeat of the previous one. Also: Kirbo mentions he had met Dale Biberman “tonight” which means all the previous action has happened on the same night. I remember staying up that late at that age and doing a bunch of shit but holy schnikes, these peeps are busy busy busy (either that, or no one on the crew noticed the time discrepancy). Are we to believe that Jules changed into an entire different outfit, that everybody went to St. Elmo’s and got drunk, that Alec and Leslie went back to their yuppie loft and began refurbishing it.


Conspicuous consumption: Awwww, Alec and Leslie ARE buying that new long couch! Thanks, Senator Hodges! Jules and Leslie are pouring out of a boutique with many bags (a frequent sight on the East and West Coast in the 1980s). Another 80s trope pops up just seconds later, with some rich yuppie dickface coming on to Jules: “Hi, beautiful. Like Porsches?” This was a halcyon time when that line could actually work.

The gang prepares to go on a tri-state shopping spree

FuckFace is (natch) chatting up some chickies on the street corner wearing another in his line of twisted, ill-fitting skinny ties (this one is stuffed incongruously into a button-necked shirt, just to show his ongoing rapacious cluelessness). Alec has just gotten him a job as a “pollster” which it seems FuckFace barely even knows what that is. The gang zips off to St. Elmo’s Bar in Jules' trendy open-air Jeep Cherokee, and Les drops the bomb on all of them about Alec working for crusty ol’ Senator Hodges.

KIRBO: What's the four-time president of Georgetown's Young Democrats doing working for a Republican Senator?
ALEC: Moving up, Kirbo.
OTHERS: Ooooooh!

Like so many times in this movie, this Alec-goes-G.O.P. plot point, like Jules’ stepmonster, is never dealt with again in any kind of meaningful story-arc kind of way. This contributes to the inevitable, creeping sitcom feeling.


After a brisk day shopping and then “sucking back a few Bloody Marys at St. Elmo’s,” Jules is predictably horny. She lures poor Kevin into her….uh, well, how do we describe this and give it proper credence? A Hollywood costume designer’s notion of gay man’s apartment? A fag hag cave? We’ll go with the second one. Everything is swathed in pink – it makes me think of the cheesy honeymoon suite in Superman II, the one with the pink bear rug, and the tacky nouveau rich Guidoisms of Ray Liotta’s house in Goodfellas. A Nagelesque portrait of Billy Idol sneers out from one of the walls. A glass table is held up by what looks to be concrete pylons. “You haven't seen it since I moved in,” Jules chirps. Kevin snarks back: “I only remember 800 pairs of shoes.” In his Bukowski-esque garb, he looks as out of place as I feel at Producers' Guild of America parties.

Jules, as we soon learn, is maxed up to her eyeballs in credit. She seems to think it is a God-given right “for fabulous people like me.” But she has other bidness on her mind:

KEVIN: Jules, why do I feel like I'm not here by accident?
JULES: I have been needing to talk to you.
KEVIN: Ah. I see one of our infamous conversations is coming. Like when you met my parents and decided I was adopted. Remember that?
JULES: I still think your mother’s hiding something from you.

Good lord, this lady is a true work of art! She mocks a man’s sexuality right before hitting on him! Now that I think about it, Jules must have been some sort of unacknowledged influence on the 90s/00s generation of third-generation feminists. Fuck with a man just because you can - and call it “empowering.”

JULES: Kevin, I'm curious. You know all those nights we stayed up talking? How come you never made a pass at me?
KEVIN: What?
JULES: Don't you find me attractive? You know you're the only guy at school who never made a pass at me?
KEVIN: Well, I never joined the Army either.
JULES: Kev, you've got a problem. You're gay, and you're madly in love with Alec.
KEVIN: Jules, there's the brink of insanity, and then there is the abyss...which you have obviously fallen into.
JULES: Don't be ashamed! Gay became chic in the '70s.
KEVIN: I'm not ashamed. I am not gay. And I am not staying.

Ah, yes. You don’t hit on me so you must be gay, because how dare you resist my wiles?. Jules practically attacks him, shrieking: “Kevin! Look at me in this robe! Are you hard? No!”

"Release the Gaykren!"

As if that isn’t enough ammo, she summons the Gay Kraken (or “Gaykren”), interior designer Ron Dallesandro (Matthew Laurance), the man responsible for Jules’ monstrous décor. Indication of the film’s breezy shallow laziness: How do we know Ron is gay? BECAUSE HE’S WEARING GREEN PANTS AND DRINKING A STRAWBERRY MARGARITA AT 3PM ON A SATURDAY AFTERNOON. Schumacher must have kissed himself.


First off, Kirbo arrives two hours early for his lunch date with the lovely Ms. Biberman.* Even the staff thinks he’s nuts (we see someone buffing the floor in the background). His OCD is making him loopy: he begins heedlessly marking up their menus with a red pen to figure out the best thing to order for his date. The maitre d' looks on worriedly as Kirb phones Jules for wine-ordering guidance (period detail: Kirbo needs a phone brought to his table a la The Polo Lounge) and Jules, smart-smart glasses on her face and a silk scarf around her neck, advises him.
*Joel Schumacher: “The studio wanted me to cut Emilio Estevez and Andie MacDowell‘s relationship out of the film—because they thought Emilio’s hairdo was too embarrassing, too humiliating.”

JULES: You could order a nice Napa Valley chardonnay. Or if she's worth it, get an import to impress her.
KIRBO: Well, money's no object.
JULES: Really? Then Montrachet or Meursault. And make sure you smell the cork.

Jules advises Kirbo how to cut up a body

We learn that Jules is a harbinger of the type of people who will 25 years later, cause the meltdown of the world economy: she is overdrawn on advances to her salary, yet she is living the deceptive surface existence that has earned her the moniker “Moneybags.” When she needs more cash, Jules resolves to have a talk with her boss Forrester. Will Jules play the va-jay-jay card? Stay tuned.

"Just a case of possession obsession...": Miss Biberman

The lovely Miss Biberman finally arrives, late. Kirbo lies that he hasn’t been waiting long and, apropos of nothing, blurts out a line from Annie Hall, the film they saw together: “I’ll be having the alfalfa sprouts and a plate of mashed yeast!” She is confused and guarded—rightfully so. She smiles awkwardly. She is called back to the hospital. Kirbo’s date with Miss Biberman lasts exactly 50 seconds. “I hope we can do this again sometime,” she drawls. Frustrated in more ways than one, Kirb will rush home, don a horse bridle, and masturbate while shaving his scrotum in what has become a ritualistic ceremony of his decaying mind.

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK: As Kirby continues his descent down the rabbit hole of fixation and socially inappropriate behavior.

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