Lion of the Blogosphere

St. Elmo’s Fire: the cast


The opening shot of St. Elmo’s fire shows the cast graduating from Georgetown University, but the scene was shot somewhere else because Georgetown, a Catholic school, didn’t allow them to film on campus because they didn’t approve of the content of the movie. Premarital sex and drug use may have been very 80s. As well as 90s, 00s, and 10s, but Georgetown was still living in the 70s when Jack Tripper was only allowed to share an apartment with two unmarried women because he convinced Mr. Roper that he was gay.

Just a few months before this movie, three of these Brat Pack members (Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez) starred in the Breakfast Club where they played high school students. I am much happier seeing them play people their own age. The 80s is famous for a lot of high-school movies, but this is the only widely known 80s movie about that transitional period after college graduation. (My high school English teacher, Frank McCourt, known for his memoir Angela’s Ashes, didn’t like the Breakfast Club. He said it was just about putting people in a room together for two hours, which had been done many times before in plays.)

Significantly, everyone in this scene is happy. Shortly after this opening shot, the movie segues into a scene in which people are not happy. The message is that college is the happiest time and the real world sucks.

One of the reasons why the movie was not originally as well received as it deserved to be is because, on first viewing, it’s very difficult to keep track of seven different main characters. And a lot happens to them in less than two hours of screen time.

From left to right (note that I’m not even going to bother to refer to anyone by their character’s name):

Andrew McCarthy: He works for a newspaper writing obituaries, and I assume he mostly works from home because we don’t see him going to an office. Of course, he aspires to be a much bigger writer in the future. He doesn’t have any relations with women because he has oneitis for Ally Sheedy who, unfortunately for him, is in a live-in boyfriend-girlfriend relationship with Judd Nelson.

Mare Winningham: She doesn’t belong with the rest of this group. She’s not a member of the Brat Pack. But the movie called for an actress to play the ugly virgin girl who has oneitis for bad-boy Rob Lowe. Instead of wearing cool 80s clothes like everyone else, she wears dowdy clothes that a grandmother might have worn in the 80s. She’s a social worker who volunteers at a soup kitchen. Her desire to help others is shown as a negative thing; she’s too meek to have any goals or ambition for herself.

Rob Lowe: He’s the bad-boy musician. He has a wife and a baby. It’s not clear why he got married. I assume he must have been drunk or stoned when he did that. His wife and the baby make only brief cameo appearances, because he’s too much of a bad-boy to let a wife and baby get in the way of his carousing and casual sex. He also spends a lot of time with Mare Winnigham although they do not have a sexual relationship. Their relationship doesn’t make any logical sense, but trying to insert some, I assume that because he’s such a narcissist he occasionally enjoys palling around with an ugly girl who worships him.

Judd Nelson: He has a job with a Democratic Congressman, and he is completely immersed in his career to an extent that makes him appear full of himself. During the course of the movie he leaves for a job with a Republican Senator because it pays more money to work for a Senator. Even during the 80s, the kind of people who wrote screenplays were all liberal, so his change of party allegiance is supposed to demonstrate his loss of soul to career ambitions. He frequently cheats on Ally Sheedy, his live-in girlfriend.

Ally Sheedy: She’s the artsy girl, pretty in a sweet, understated and slightly funky way. She was college roommates with Demi Moore. As already mentioned, she’s the live-in girlfriend of Judd Nelson. Today, one might think “duh, of course they’re going to live together,” but that was actually not something that was a given in movies and TV of the time, which were several years behind the changing social norms of the real world.

Ally Sheedy’s career is an enigma in the movie. In an earlier version of the screenplay, she’s an architect, but that was cut out of the movie. Was it cut out because they were just trying to shorten the movie, or because they wanted to present Sheedy as not having a career? I got the impression from watching the movie that she worked at an antique store along the Georgetown Canal. I am not sure if I was supposed to get that impression.

Ally Sheedy starts the movie completely clueless that Andrew McCarthy has a secret oneitis crush on her. She just enjoys using him as a sensitive beta-male friend. He’s in a friend zone the size of the Grand Canyon.

Demi Moore: She’s the beautiful party girl who drinks a lot, does cocaine, has casual sex, wears outrageous 80s clothes and hairstyles, overspends on her credit cards (remember that credit cards were an evolving thing; no one had credit cards at all in the 1960s, and it wasn’t until the 1980s when everybody had them) even though she has the highest paying job of the group, plans to sleep her way to a promotion, and is always whoring for attention.

Demi Moore never looked more beautiful than she did in this movie. Her vocal fry makes her seem world-weary but somehow also sexy. In future movies, the same vocal fry just made her seem masculine. Nevertheless, Demi Moore’s popularity, which began with this movie, is probably the most important contribution to this manner of speech becoming a popular trend among young women.

Emilio Estevez: He works as a waiter at St. Elmo’s Bar, their favorite college hangout. He is attending, or plans to attend, law school. And he has oneitis for Andie MacDowell who’s a beautiful medical student three years his senior. His behavior towards her definitely crosses the the creepy-stalker line, yet instead of calling the police and getting a restraining order, Andie MacDowell takes it all in with a sweet bland kindness towards him.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

January 7, 2016 at 11:09 am

Posted in Movies

33 Responses

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  1. Switch Rob Lowe to a closeted homo and it makes more sense: platonic woman friend = fag hag, wife = beard, casual sex = toned down for public consumption.


    January 7, 2016 at 11:46 am

    • It wasn’t so long ago that homosexuality wasn’t the celebrated “cool” thing that it is now. It was awkward, embarrassing and shameful. I remember when I discovered one of my college roommates was gay. Awkward and didn’t quite know how to handle it. A couple months later I learned that two of my three housemates from the previous year had come out of the closet to make 3 of 6 gay roommates for my time at Georgetown.

      Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta

      January 7, 2016 at 12:44 pm

      • Homosexuality was slowly gaining acceptance in the ’70s, but the AIDS plague of the ’80s put the breaks on that.

        It is very difficult to say anything intelligent about being gay in the 20th Century without discussing AIDS. People wonder “when did gays become boring, with their obsession with getting married and living bourgeois lives? They used to be all about being flamboyant and fabulous!”

        Well, AIDS killed off a large portion of the most artistic gays, Keith Haring and Robert Mapplethorpe the most famous. The gays who survived realized that they had to live boring lives just to live at all.


        January 7, 2016 at 2:01 pm

      • Were you there during the AIDS 80s? Extra awkward, I’d say.


        January 7, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      • @Glengarry

        It was in the early 90s and there was still some concern that the AIDS tolerance propaganda wasn’t being honest about the real risks. What complicated things was the fact that he was a stranger and that his friends had told me he had taken a year off because of a nervous breakdown and suicide attempt. I didn’t want to be that guy that pushed him over the edge because of some unintentional misunderstood joke or microaggression. Other than that, he was a perfect roommate, quiet, tidy, respectful. Even though we weren’t particularly close, we minded our own business and went on with life. I had a picture of the two of us, and I’m embarrassed to confess that with my goofy grin and tiny Euro glasses I actually looked like the gay one.

        More important than the AIDS era it was the Prozac Nation era. He was the first guy I knew on some kind of antidepressants. I opened my eyes and realized that a large number, perhaps more than a third of the students I knew were on some prescription psychopharmaceuticals or performance enhancing stimulants, ostensibly for ADHD. For a brief period as I was having a hard time keeping up with the pressure, even I experimented with the campus shrink and the pills he prescribed.

        Perhaps under the cover of pseudonymity we might share… How have your experienced the the changing fashions about psychiatric therapy and psychopharmaceuticals? Have you taken advantage of these resources yourselves or been close to those who have?

        Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta

        January 7, 2016 at 3:50 pm

      • Up to the mid-1960s, homosexuality was regarded as a mental disorder. Public service ads ran on TV dealing with the threat these deviants posed to adolescent boys. Virtually all homosexuals were closeted and many prayed to be cured. Once the counterculture and gay liberation came on the scene, all hell broke loose.

        Lewis Medlock

        January 7, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      • @TSMB, My closest experience with all that was a crazed girlfriend who was diagnosed as “mild BPD” and put on some sort of anti-depressant after a particularly spectacular episode that ended up in the ER. She complained about the weird side effects all the time and after a few weeks quit it, with some lingering weirdness but without any long-term ill effects as far as I could tell. At that point we had broken up but were still in occasional contact. (I think it was a good decision, I’m very suspicious of SSRIs myself.) She had been in therapy in her teens and her friends and parents considered her “a bit fragile”, reading between the lines.

        Regarding academic meth heads, I’m generally against them. High schoolers and students use it to cheat their way into wherever, which is wrong. For researchers going for tenure, I think it’s basically wrong too, but might in my more malicious moments find it acceptable if they are perpetually administered the same dosage while tenured. Also, most of those with tenure slack off so maybe it’s less of a big deal.

        (I’m against PEDs in athletics too.)


        January 7, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    • rob lowe sounds alpha as fuck in this movie


      January 7, 2016 at 3:33 pm

  2. Love these ’80s posts!

    The message is that college is the happiest time and the real world sucks.

    My life has progressively gotten happier over the (30) years since college as my wealth and financial security increased.

    In the ’80s, DC was very high crime; these SWPLs would have suffered.

    Back in the mid-’80s, I once cut out a magazine photo of Emilio Estevez and asked the stylist at Super Cuts to cut my hair like Emilio’s. Bet you all forgot that in the early ’90s Estevez was briefly married to another ’80s icon – Paula Abdul!

    What about that other decent ’80s movie that starred all the early ’80s male brats – “The Outsiders” (’83) – Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Estevez, Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell, and Leif Garret.

    E. Rekshun

    January 7, 2016 at 11:57 am

    • “My life has progressively gotten happier over the (30) years since college as my wealth and financial security increased.”

      As I look back, it’s hard to ignore the idealism and hopes for great things that so many had back then. College was like kindergarten. A privileged time to be able to play and pretend to be able to have the power to do, decide and build great things. The joke among Georgetown students (and many of the faculty) was that our degrees qualified us for little except for President or Secretary of State. Except for the many foreign students who could return to their family run dictatorships, there were few open positions.

      In a conversation with a Georgetown Dean I complained that as much as I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of my education there, I felt unqualified to add value to the economy in any measurable way. His response: “You did manage to pick up some foreign language proficiency and computer skills along the way…” Precious little for six-figures of investment in human capital if you ask me.

      So after 4-some years of pretending and playing exercises that presuppose immense amounts of power, our egos had been fed to unrealistic and unsustainable dimensions that could only be severely disappointed by the comparably modest tasks offered by post-graduation career tedium. If young people dream of leaving their mark and “changing the world” it is a step toward maturity to overcome that youthful narcissism and realize that each of us is but one of the world’s seven some billion souls who probably have similar dreams.

      Indulging kids in that kind of education might be a form of child-abuse that just feeds that grandiosity and narcissism and pre-programs disappointment and depression. What is the point of simulating great power and great actions if that kind of thing is so far off in the future if ever to be attained? Not even our President and Commander in Chief has the kind of authority and independence that college kids have in their imaginary little simulations. Poor Barry O’ has had to satisfy himself with feeble little executive orders. Whatever you think of him as a man and a President, his hands have been tied by the constitution and the political circumstances so that he’s been paralyzed for most of his administration. I don’t even know why he bothered to run for reelection because he’s undertaken astonishingly little in his second term. Perhaps a stronger character and a more mature executive can box through a more ambitious agenda in spite of certain reflexive opposition… Maybe it’s not impossible for somebody to be as effective an executive as Reagan, Johnson or Roosevelt were in the previous century.

      Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta

      January 7, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    • >>I once cut out a magazine photo of Emilio Estevez and asked the stylist at Super Cuts to cut my hair like Emilio’s.

      Ha. I have always thought about cutting a photo from a magazine and showing it to the barber for how I want my hair cut but on second thought it seemed to be real girly thing to do, so I have never done it.


      January 7, 2016 at 3:33 pm

  3. Hey Lion, I love 80s movies too, but you’re spending too much time on this SWPL movie. To understand the white majority (males, proles) of American in the 80s, you have to understand Stallone’s Rocky and Rambo.


    January 7, 2016 at 11:58 am

    • What’s there to say about Sly movies? He grunts a lot. There’s action. Good guy wins at the end. Prole males like it, but prole males have bad taste.

      Critics like the first Rocky movie because they thought Sly did a great job playing a dumb guy who grunts a lot. It was before they realized he wasn’t acting.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      January 7, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      • Sly reputedly has a IQ score of 160*. Lion, your going to have to re-think your whole take on Rocky, Guidos, action films, and the like.

        *I’m not entirely convinced myself, since160 is remarkably high. Still, I must admit that in interviews that I’ve seen he is a lot more witty and articulate than you might suspect.

        ice hole

        January 7, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      • What makes Stallone a genius is that he utterly understands tragedy and triumph of masculinity. He was able to present the essence of manhood as a noble thing. He utterly embraced traditional sex roles.

        This is why he is hated and dismissed by Leftists as stupid. Because to be pro-man in this day and age (and the 80s) is essentially to be a crypto-Nazi on some level according to our betters.

        Rocky/Rambo also represented a “back on it’s feet” America after the terrible wound of Vietnam. There’s a reason Reagan quoted Rambo in one of his speeches: “We get to win this time.”

        I would take another look at the Rocky and Rambo series; especially the originals. Those movies are very red pill and understand that men fight alone and always used and betrayed. Also, the portrayal of Adrian is remarkable as a good traditional woman. A lot of boys who grew up on Adrian were astonished that good women no longer existed.

        “Of the three big Eighties action heroes – the Planet Hollywood troika – Stallone was the relatable everyman, the otherwise absurd mass of muscle who was most like us. Schwarzenegger was the machine, Bruce Willis was the quipping idol and Stallone was, dare one say it, the tragedian, the tortured underdog of macho melodrama.”


        January 7, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      • There’s nothing wrong with making the entertainment that viewers want to watch, but there just isn’t much to say about the entertainment.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        January 7, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      • “Also, the portrayal of Adrian is remarkable as a good traditional woman.”

        The sex scene in Rocky would be considered rape today. Honestly, I thought it was a little creepy when I first saw it as a kid.

        It pains me to disagree with Lion, but Rocky is a great movie with widespread appeal.


        January 7, 2016 at 3:18 pm

  4. I had a huge crush on Jenny Wright when I was ten. It’s a shame that she pretty much disappeared. Lion, if you’re still looking for 80s movies to review, I’d suggest Near Dark. It’s Jenny Wright’s best work, Kathryn Bigelow directed, and Tangerine Dream did the soundtrack. I’d also suggest River’s Edge.

    “His behavior towards her definitely crosses the the creepy-stalker line, yet instead of calling the police and getting a restraining order, Andie McDowell takes it all in with a sweet bland kindness towards him.”

    My wife and I watched this a few months ago and she said the same thing. Jezebel would be outraged if this movie were made today.

    I just skimmed through the comments on the other St. Elmo’s Fire posts and noticed that no one posted John Parr’s excellent video, although it’s mostly just clips from the movie and Parr singing and dancing in the bar:


    January 7, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    • Near Dark has the advantage of having Bill Paxton’s best scene of his career. You’ll know it when you see it.

      Andrew E.

      January 7, 2016 at 12:42 pm

  5. What’s the deal with all this 80’s nostalgia lately, Lion?


    January 7, 2016 at 12:15 pm

  6. Your high school English teacher was Frank McCourt? Talk about burying the lede…have you written about this? If not could you tell us about it?


    January 7, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    • You haven’t been paying attention. It’s OK. New readers are welcome.

      You have to imagine “Mr. McCourt” criticizing the Breakfast Club with his normal sarcastic intonation and thick Irish accent.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      January 7, 2016 at 12:53 pm

      • Stuy? McCourt got really famous when I was there, never had him though.

        4 of my Stuy teachers ended up fired (“reassigned” per UFT) or arrested or forcibly resigned. Most notably Richard Plass and Lee Phillips.

        Not all teachers were bad, but there was definitely a mismatch between the student populace and the quality of teacher.

        Not so desperate Googler

        January 7, 2016 at 10:47 pm

      • I never heard of those two teachers.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        January 8, 2016 at 12:28 am

  7. Judd Nelson’s ambition would have been quite typical of the mentality around Georgetown, however basic political affiliation wasn’t something that anybody would have sold out for a few coins….
    Betray some particular peripheral issues? Sure. Switch party? Not bloody likely.

    Working as some staffer on the Hill doesn’t pay much no matter which house or which side. Nobody goes into that field for the money. As a lobbyist one can earn a fair bit, but you have to have achieved something at some level before that door opens. Among my fellow students the transformation senior year was remarkable… from students who relished in reading and reflecting about political philosophy or international relations to crazy ambitious phonies trying to angle a position from one of the big finance or business consultancies that were recruiting on campus. It was patently absurd how a bunch of liberal artistes who had never opened a spreadsheet before were suddenly interested in the world of finance and business. Of my friends and peers who had gone off to work on Wall Street for Goldman or the Morgans, our paths diverged too much to have very much in common any more to be able to stay in touch.

    Perhaps neglected among the many causes of the dissolution of social ties of friendships, family and community is the very social ambition and striving for class mobility that is at the core of being American. The kind of ambition that Judd Nelson’s character shows doesn’t surprise and is probably what fuels the engines of places like DC, NYC and the places that feed them. I remember one guy at Georgetown who seemed so down to earth. He came from a small Mennonite community way out west and made Huckabee look like a sophisticated canny operator like Trump. By the time we were seniors, he was scheming and cheating to compete to get better grades just like everybody else. But he kept the “down-to-earth” schtick. Maybe he was always an ambitious schemer after all and I was fooled by the act. Something about Georgetown made for a fascinating unnatural selection. Sift for clever ambitious little things during admissions and put them in a competitive zero-sum environment, don’t be surprised about the slimy schemers that are forged. To be sure I don’t at all regret the intellectual stimulation… something that I’ve missed ever since and have never been able to experience again… even in graduate school.

    I take that back. Hangin’ here with the Lion and his crew kind of reminds me of those late night dorm-room bull sessions. Sure nothing will come from our little bit of mental masturbation. But it beats most of what’s on tv.

    Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta

    January 7, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    • “Switch party? Not bloody likely”

      Things were very different then on the Hill. I was there. I did exactly what Judd did.


      January 8, 2016 at 7:10 am

  8. Regarding 80s fashion and style, remember that it along with 80s style music became fashionable again in the 2000s. In the 90s, 80s fashion, style, and music were regarded as very unfashionable and tacky and were often laughed at and joked about. “That’s so 80s” was said in the 90s to deride people or kids in school who wore dated 80s fashions or still listened to 80s music.

    That’s usually what happens. When a new style comes along, the immediate predecessor is consider dated and bad, but after a while when it’s no longer the immediate predecessor, it or elements of it get revived and it becomes considered fashionable again.

    This has also happened with elements of 70s style, which was considered unfashionable in the clean shaven and more formal 80s and for a long time afterward, but some of which, such as facial hair and skinny jeans, have become fashionable again more recently.


    January 7, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    • Everything skips a generation… Boxers or briefs. Baggy or fitted clothes. Long hair or short hair. Clean shaven or bearded. Parents can’t be cool. Grandparents maybe. Dad jeans… forget about it. Granddad jeans…. hmmmm…

      I remember when everyone was excited about whether Bill Clinton was wearing boxers or briefs, my mother who was of Clintons’ generation explained that she threw away all my dad’s boxers in the 70s because then they were hopelessly out of style. So following the trend it was briefs. Generation X had to rebel against their baby-boomer elders and made boxers cool again. Now millennials have adopted more fitted clothes skinny jeans and slim suits and the sleek briefs to go under them. I guess whatever your parents do is square and uncool; but what grandparents did was far enough removed to be cool and hip.

      I can’t wait until our grandchildren rebel against these ridiculous hipster beards and tattoos and rightfully ridicule that nonsense.

      Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta

      January 7, 2016 at 4:49 pm

  9. Maybe it’s from growing up on a coast, but drugs and premarital sex were very much a seventies and even late sixties thing. Granted, it took some time for that to filter into mainstream entertainment, particularly TV.

    One annoying thing about movies in general, including this one, is the professions and aspirations of the group. I grew up in a very media intensive area, and have lived in a couple of others, and I’ve never known or met anyone who made their living as a “writer”. I do know two musicians who make enough to support a family, but the vast majority have a daytime job, even if they could make it professionally.

    Other 80’s movies I’d like your take on: Sixteen Candles, and Top Gun.

    As a separate 80s category, excellent books made into movies that were nearly as good as the book (e.g. The Right Stuff), vs those that were absolutely horrible adaptations of the book (e.g. Fast Times at Ridgemont High).


    January 7, 2016 at 4:12 pm

  10. remember that credit cards were an evolving thing; no one had credit cards at all in the 1960s

    Dustin Hoffman uses a credit card, IIRC, in the hotel in The Graduate (1967). Unless maybe it was just a charge card, like the old version of American Express?

    Dave Pinsen

    January 7, 2016 at 7:31 pm

  11. Regarding McCourt, I was unable to find a search button on the site to view previous material about him. I also checked google and found little.

    One question, did you buy his b.s. story or not? I’m sure he was poor, but many believe he embellished his tale. One of his biggest detractors was another man from Limerick, the fine actor Richard Harris.


    January 8, 2016 at 9:06 am

    • I think he delighted in saying stuff that was on the edge of plausibility to see people’s reactions to it. You could never tell when he was being serious.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      January 8, 2016 at 9:58 am

  12. You should cover Whit Stillman’s Last Days of Disco next. So much for you to write about: Ivy League grads, Manhattan, the 80s, dancing at clubs (dancing in bars is a myth), reactionary aesthetics, yuppie self-identification, railroad apartments, Kate Beckinsale, downward social mobility, etc.

    George S

    January 9, 2016 at 3:12 pm

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