*Burning Questions

For years and years, I carried on about how great it would be if I only had St Elmo’s Fire on DVD. For some reason, though, aside from the ongoing reasons of my laziness and cheapness, I never got around to acquiring it, even though I did get around to acquiring Sample People. Finally, however, I have got hold of my own copy of the film, and the sharpness of Blu-Ray has meant that I’ve been able to have one long-term question of mine answered, even though viewing the film anew, and with such clarity, has also led to fresh queries on my part.

When St Elmo’s Fire was in current release, I was madly in love with Andrew McCarthy in the person of cynical obituary writer Kevin Dolenz, as he slouched around in a large coat, smoking cigarettes and denouncing romantic love, and complaining that, rather than writing about death, he’d like to write ‘something about the meaning of life for a change’. I rented the VHS of St Elmo’s many a time and watched carefully every frame McCarthy was in, rejoicing with him when his character’s byline appeared on an opinion piece called ‘The Meaning of Life: Observations by Kevin Dolenz’.

Now, what I always wanted to know was exactly what opinions Kevin had expressed in this article. There was no way, though, I was ever going to be possessed of that information when it was just me and a VHS player. Now, however, thanks to the pause function on the good old Blu-ray, I can reveal that the piece kicks off with the following: ‘Pop-Tarts now come in twelve flavours; music videos are a twenty-four hour a day phenomenon; ordinary women can transform themselves into goddesses in aerobics temples. All signs indicate that we are in the zenith of contemporary civilization’. This is all splendid but, unfortunately, that’s where the first column of text ends; the second merely has some twaddle about the wretched Doors, concluding ‘There’s life in my three-volume set’. I frankly doubt that our excellent Gen X-er friend Kevin would be nattering on about these baby boomer monstrosities.

Clearly, I’m never going to know what other sardonic observations Kevin had on the topic of life in the eighties, but I’m willing to bet that the ideas of George Orwell, not to mention Rockwell in ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’, would have been given their due. Still, I was happy to discover that, these days, Andrew McCarthy not only acts but is in the travel writing game. In one of his recent articles, he claims, ‘I’ve been told that I never look more at ease than when I’m slathering some Kerry gold butter onto a piece of Irish brown soda bread’. Yes, it lacks the scope of Dolenz’s work but I’m only too pleased to have the opportunity to try to make do with something from the pen of McCarthy.

As I say, though, St Elmo’s Fire coughs up other mysteries that even the new technology isn’t going to be able to solve. For example, good-time girl Jules (Demi Moore) eventually has everything in her apartment repossessed, due to her depraved lifestyle of tooting coke and indulging in lavish interior redecoration, including having a mural-sized rendering of a stylised Billy Idol head on her wall. At the climax of the film, she is, of course, sitting in her now uncluttered home, trying to freeze herself to death, surely one of the more protracted methods of committing suicide, until ne’er-do-well musician Billy (Rob Lowe) talks her down from the ledge (more on this later). However, as she and Billy sit on the floor and communicate, it’s plain to see that an enormous Pierrot doll head has been left in Jules’s possession. Why did the repo men leave it behind? Is it because it was a present and, if so, from whom?

Something else I would like to know is why the characters never seem to recognise it as being an amazing coincidence that they habituate a bar called St Elmo’s, the song ‘St Elmo’s Fire’ is played while they’re at this very bar, and that Billy gets Jules to cease her self-freezing campaign by talking to her about the concept of St Elmo’s fire (again, more on this later). And, speaking of the movie’s theme song, sung by one John Parr, the video (included on the Blu-ray) gives us to believe, thanks to all the rubbish bins with fires burning away in them, and a sign saying ‘out of business’, that St Elmo’s bar is no longer a viable enterprise. I fail to see why this should be so, as at the closing stages of the film the place is still ‘pumping’ with young blood. Also, it’s clear that we’re not in some later apocalyptic era, as, towards the end of the video, John Parr walks among, and sings at, the cast, who are dressed as their characters exactly as they appear in the course of the film’s mid-eighties-based action. Parr and cast alike seem embarrassed by this turn of events, except for Rob Lowe, who, to his credit, looks as though he finds it hilarious. Parr chummily punches him in the arm, in part because, I assume, he and Billy are musicians together.

Most importantly, though, I have to admit that I’ve never really understood the St Elmo’s fire-related boosting that Billy gives Jules, and the more I think about it, the more of a mystery it becomes. He talks to her of electric flashes of light that appear in the dark out of nowhere, which sailors would use as guidance on their journeys but that ‘the joke was on them’ because there was no fire. Billy notes that they ‘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. It’s our time at the edge.’ Well, I can see that this analogy works for Kevin, in his long-term romantic obsession with pearl-necklace-encrusted good girl Leslie (Ally Sheedy), and for fool-for-love Kirby (Emilio Estevez) in his highly stalkerish obsession with an unusually glamorous doctor named Dale (Andie MacDowell) but I simply don’t see the relevance of the St Elmo’s fire mythology in this instance. What is it that Jules has made up? All her things have been repossessed and she really has been fired and, if she had made all this up, why would it be something that keeps her going?

Still, the above may all yet be explained to my satisfaction, as I’ve read that ABC has won a bidding war to turn St Elmo’s Fire into a television show. Yes, this news shocks and appals me also, as I hate the thought of the story and characters being jazzed up for the present day, with cigarette smoking banished and iPads brandished. Still, I suppose its makers will need to do what they can to make it clear that we are in the zenith of contemporary civilisation.

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