St. Elmo’s Fire
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Written by Joel Schumacher and Carl Kurlander
Starring Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, etc.
110 minutes, Columbia Pictures, 1985.

***

Here’s a shit-show where everyone is loathsome, young, priveliged, and without any entertaining qualities. This is a significant movie for the way it is shoddily chopped together from lazy cinematography, rife with plot elements that are unpredictable because they are so completely out-of-place and unreasonable, supporting characters whom are introduced clumsily and then abandoned without any real reason except to advance a zany plot idea, and starring loathsome actors whose impressions feel like they left MDMA-sized holes in your brain. I think St. Elmo’s Fire refers to the rapidly spreading rash they all contract from sleeping with each other.

Today’s film equivalent, the canon of Sofia Coppola or the CV of Michael Cera, is considered brilliant (by the idiocracy) because such films frame this substance-less or meandering, melancholy-lite narrative within a well-produced project. As an early progenitor of this style, St. Elmo’s Fire seems to have no redeeming qualities, much like earlier flick, The Big Chill.

The Big Chill is worth mentioning because it was the first stupid, nostalgic, commercially-successful friendship movie I can think of that has no real resonance for anyone except people who are similarly vanilla flavored. The first “those were the days/we were young/fondness for youth” types of things. I agree, there is something ephemeral and seemingly magically touching about getting old. Kind of like how good techno or house music has an endearing melancholy to it (because it makes you think of casual sex!). But these movies really can’t capture that at all. They end up looking like a re-enactment of someone else’s lame Facebook photos.

There is a supreme irony to the nostalgia flavor in these movies, given how self-centered the characters are: to celebrate their nostalgia goes beyond distaste. St. Elmo’s Fire is a very similar movie to The Big Chill, simply made about 10 years later, and geared toward an accelerated, more saturated commercial market (I have no facts to back this up but it sounds good to me!). If you made the same movie today it would just be a Youtube video of your Facebook photo albums, with pop music that has been ravaged by the merciless audio-mastering standards of the modern audio industry.

Part of the reason common movies CULTURE suck(s) so much now is ‘coz it’s ALL nostalgia. It’s all hipster-consumerism (which looks like it could be an anagram for hippie-communism, right?! but naw…). People fondly remember shit they liked when they were younger, which amounted to things. People no longer yearn for their homeland in the same way as people in classic stories, because in ages past there wasn’t the same intense commercialism driving everyone’s memories. If you think about it, that is a business’ grand slam: to embed itself into your fond emotional memories. Hence we have a generation of boring businessmen and women stuffing the pop culture of the 60s/70s/80s/90s down our throats because they are nostalgic for it or can find emotionally needy customers who are.

By the way, this movie is supposed to take place in Georgetown (Washington, DC) but it is worth noting that there are no significant shots indicating this is in fact the city they are in. I would actually wager they filmed this in Boston or Philadelphia or some such place. And also, Rob Lowe is an intolerable little shit.

Weekend at Bernie’s
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Written by Robert Klane
Starring Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman, Catherine Mary Stewart, Terry Kiser
97 minutes, 20th Century Fox, 1989.

***

An artistic vehicle can’t help being some kind of commentary on something. For dontcha know, All Art is Propaganda, “the fool sees not the same tree the wise man sees”, and everything is just an argument for its own existence.

It’s shallow and gaudy at first glance — rife with tacky dark-comedy, but Weekend at Bernie‘s has some narrative tricks to tell. The title character of Bernie is/was the millionaire scumbag “Eighties’ guy” with tons of friends and money — shallow jerkoff in a jumpsuit at the beach. When Bernie dies, nobody around him even notices, except his underlings visiting for the weekend. Bernie is one of the main events at the beach town; people are attracted to him like flies on carrion. And right away you see his sycophants are so caught up in their own narcissism and shallow pursuits that they can’t afford to actually give a flying fuck about Bernie as a person, dead or alive. They don’t actually interact with Bernie at all. Everyone hangs out with Bernie exclusively for the luxury and status that his social-financial assets afford, and there is no interaction with Bernie, the tangible breathing (or not) human being.

Hmm, Bernie the tangible human being. It doesn’t sway people because it precisely isn’t tangible (even though people are… physical things?). Personalities and artistic endeavors sway people emotionally based on taste, but status, money, convenience, sexual allure, power — these things guarantee a modicum of attention and company: the oarsmen for the armada of the ego. The problem with status-based manipulation is that it is not actually deep enough to effectively sway people of quality, and those it does sway, it does so only temporarily, for their allegiance must always change to sample many flavors.

That’s the game of high society (and maybe all social groups) but it’s goofy here because it’s proven via such blatant means. Plainly shown, this is who Bernie is — or was, and who we construct from the variety of tongue-in-cheek engagements that take place with his corpse. He’s not really dead, or at least not any more than the people he keeps company with, because he’s just as active post-mortem as before. To be alive and aware requires emotional introspection and reflection; the people who cannot process things are the ones who cannot see a difference in Bernie — dead or alive. A person and their legacy are the projected constructs of other people. Status is an illusory social belief granted to those who define it.

There’s never anything particularly fuzzy or friendly about Weekend at Bernie’s and that’s what seems so ’80s about it. Part of the honesty of movies like Conan, Blade Runner, Willow, The Thing, Legend and a slew of other dark atmospheric ’80s fantasy films was they seemed to give an honest representation of depravity within a slew of seriously bold artistic choices and stylistic creations. Here whole thing feels like a very authentic emulation of shallowness, the bright colors, energy, and seeming innocence of the dorky protagonists. The difference is that the shallowness does not feel contrived, negative or soulless, whereas the same film today is so engendered with investment potential it becomes purposeless.
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