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St. Elmo's Fire (1985)

DaveF

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Title: St. Elmo's Fire (1985)

Tagline: The passion burns deep.

Genre: Drama, Romance, Comedy

Director: Joel Schumacher

Cast: Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Mare Winningham, Martin Balsam, Andie MacDowell, Joyce Van Patten, Jenny Wright, Jon Cutler, Blake Clark, Matthew Laurance, Gina Hecht, Anna Maria Horsford, James Carrington, Kaaren Lee, Nora Meerbaum, Don Moss, Whip Hubley, Michele Winding, Jim Turner, Mario Machado, Judy Kain, Seth Jaffe, Jeffrey Lampert, Elizabeth Arlen, Scott Nemes, Bernadette Birkett, Vincent J. Isaac, Dean R. Miller, Cindi Dietrich, David Lain Baker, Daniel Eden, Laurel Page, Thom Bierdz, Jamie Anders, J.T. Solomon, Stephanie Feury, Karen Starr

Release: 1985-06-28

Runtime: 110

Plot: A group of friends graduates from the halls of Georgetown University into lives that revolve around sex and career aspirations. Kirby waits tables to pay for law school. His roommate Kevin struggles at a D.C. newspaper as he searches for the meaning of love. Jules may be an object of adoration and envy, but secretly she has problems of her own. Demure Wendy is in love with Billy—a loveable sax player and an irresponsible drunk. Alec wants it all: a career in politics and the appearance of a traditional home life. Alec’s girlfriend, Leslie, is an ambitious architect who doesn't know about his infidelity, but his new allegiance to the Republican Party is already enough to put her off marriage.

Last night my wife and I watched 1985’s St. Elmo’s Fire. We’re preparing for the upcoming Brat Pack Doc. While vaguely aware of it, released in 1985, I was too young for the movie. And even when it came out on VHS, I never saw it. Almost 40 years later, the movie is a mixed experience.

The story of a group of friends struggling to find themselves immediately after college in early careers, young love, and their fun school dynamic stressed by “real life”.

Especially by current standards, the men are largely all terrible. Most galling — yelling at the screen the movie is so bad — is Emilio Estevez’s character Kirby who starts as seemingly the grounded one and soon becomes a full blown scary stalker. Which is all played for laughs, his stalking pays off, he shows the woman he’s stalking with a single forced kiss that she missed out, and he drives off in triumph, because narcissistic stalkers were cool in the ‘80s? A deeply awful and unreal sub-plot.

The other men are mostly terrible, but their arcs feel grounded in the reality of the world of the movie. Judd Nelson’s “she needs to marry me so I’ll be committed to her and not have sex with other women” guy — he becomes a Republican as a miscellaneous plot point which felt darkly prescient. Rob Lowe’s “stunted development, has a wife and kid but can’t stop flirting with every woman he sees and tries to rape his best friend” guy. And Andrew McCarthy’s “unrequited love” was a solid dude until he mistakes rebound emotion for true love.

All of these character behaviors are intentional choices by the writers, of course. What’s stunning from 2024 is how these are held up as avatars of ‘80s young adults. And the message that you can do these terrible things, and in the end it’s all ok, you’re all friends, and will have plans to meet for brunch next Sunday.

It was a fun movie to watch, great nostalgia for actors and soundtrack. And the stories were in their overwrought fashion enthralling. But the implicit and explicit social commentary of a lot of it is terrible.

Finding contemporaneous reviews, critics felt similarly back then. But unsurprisingly, it resonated with movie goers and was a relatively big hit.
 

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I have an odd affinity for this movie. As a gen X’er who was 12 when it came out , I knew of it when it came out, but it was an “adult” movie to me at the time so I never watched it. However , my neighbor & best friend‘s mom had the vinyl album and I played the soundtrack on her record player and really liked the theme song. I got to finally watched the movie a year or so ago and thought pretty much what Dave says. These people were pretty much the most unlikable characters on screen and the only saving grace for me was the awesome fall “Georgetown” setting & the fantastic theme music by David Foster. After listening to the commentary by Joel Schumacher saying he wrote them that way on purpose doesn’t really help in my view. It‘s just pure 80’s nostalgia (from the music-especially) that makes me want to somehow watch it every now & then, especially if I’m in a “Fall ( the season)“ mood.
 
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Desslar

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It's not a great movie. Sort of lurches from one episodic scene to another with little clear direction.

But I enjoy it for two reasons:
1) Some nice location shooting around DC, not often seen in this kind of film. I have many times walked past several of the Georgetown locations.
2) The soundtrack!! The titular single is a great coming of age anthem, and the sentimental score by David Foster really captures the time period.

Yes, most of these characters aren't exactly role models, but I think that's OK. Not everyone is well adjusted and virtuous, especially in their early 20s. There's a lot of screw-ups in the film, but hopefully all the characters have learned something (however little) by the end. Again, it isn't a great script.
 

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It's not a great movie. Sort of lurches from one episodic scene to another with little clear direction.

But I enjoy it for two reasons:
1) Some nice location shooting around DC, not often seen in this kind of film. I have many times walked past several of the Georgetown locations.
2) The soundtrack!! The titular single is a great coming of age anthem, and the sentimental score by David Foster really captures the time period.

Yes, most of these characters aren't exactly role models, but I think that's OK. Not everyone is well adjusted and virtuous, especially in their early 20s. There's a lot of screw-ups in the film, but hopefully all the characters have learned something (however little) by the end. Again, it isn't a great script.
What’s surprising is not that they are screw ups, but that their worst traits are held up as valorous, and we the audience are to celebrate how terrible they are. And especially the stalker story is shown as an exemplar for how to pursue love. It is grotesque and reveals some of the worst of ‘70s and ‘80s misogyny. St Elmo’s Fire is a weird movie. And looking at contemporaneous reviews, it’s not just a 40-years later perspective.

But I think Kirby is the worst offender. He’s not in the reality of the rest of the movie. If he’d ended soundly rejected by Dale, then the whole of the movie would have been much stronger. Because the rest of the characters all make sense in that context.


And oh the soundtrack is superb. When the movie pours out its theme song, I’m back there in 1985, and I’m feeling it all!
 

DaveF

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When and where is this so-called “brat pack” doc?
 

Bryan^H

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I'm reading Andrew McCarthy's autobiography now called 'Brat: An 80's story'. Very good book. I was pleased to read that of the films he starred in 'Heaven Help Us' (one of my favorite 80's films) is his favorite.
But he also goes into some things that happened behind the scenes of St. Elmo's Fire. Informative.

Joel Schumacher was quite a creep to him, and Ally Sheedy specifically

All I can say is that the 80's were a different time. I had a friend a few years ago dispell the magic of John Hughes films, pointing out the obvious. A couple years after that I started seeing click bait articles all over with the line "films that could never be made today".

Exactly. Different era.
 

Winston T. Boogie

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1985 was the year I graduated from high school, many of the people I knew were very into the Brat Pack films, but particularly the women. They loved these films, this one was pretty huge with them. I saw it with a group of kids I went to high school with. Uniformly the women loved it. When they asked me what I thought of it...well...I was honest, I thought it was terrible. Not for anybody's behavior in it, I just saw it as a "chick flick" and the way the girls all talked about it seemed to prove that theory true.

I will confess something here, the girls and women of the 1980s liked the behavior displayed in this film. In fact, in the trailer, one of the women asks one of the guys why in all the nights they spent talking he never made a pass at her. Honestly, as a young man in the 1980s, I got asked that question, or why I never slept with this or that woman a lot. They wanted you to stalk them, to hit on them, to act inappropriately toward them. It was considered insulting if you did not. I was stalked by many women and girls in my youth. It was, kind of, in that timeframe, considered normal. I remember girls saying excitedly "I have a stalker!" like it was an exciting and wonderful thing. I lived through that time, so I know what it was like. I remember listening to a group of girls I knew excitedly talking about stalkers they had and one girl looking dejected saying she had never had a stalker. Pretty upside down from what that would be like today, I think.

Times do change, now I am not sure that how young people acted then is how they would act now. It seems like that kind of behavior would be frowned upon. I can assure you though, in the 1980s it was not. I didn't stalk anybody back then, the truth is I had no need to, I had an entire crew of women stalking me, often angry with me that I was way too polite and would not try to score with them. I was selective with the women I chased when I was young.

I have not seen this film, I think, since it came out on VHS, when a woman I knew in high school wanted to watch it with me. We had a group
of friends like this, men and women, and we were all friends, but some of the friends stuff came with "benefits" and this was not a one-way thing that the guys tried for, the girls wanted these benefits as well and insisted upon them.

The funny thing is, during a reunion not long ago, the women of my class were still the same. They still wanted things to be like they were in the 1980s. I guess you adapt to the time you grow-up in and those behaviors are seen as nostalgic as well.

I never liked 1980s music and I never was a fan of anybody in the Brat Pack, I was into different kinds of films and music. I was snobbish about movies then and so, I did not have kind things to say about the Brat Pack films. Maybe I should try watching this again to see how it plays for me now. The music is generally, one of the hardest hurdles to get over, I can't stand the theme song for this film.
 
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Desslar

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All I can say is that the 80's were a different time. I had a friend a few years ago dispell the magic of John Hughes films, pointing out the obvious.

Of course it was a different time in some respects (Cold War for example), but I don't think this movie really highlights any major differences. I bet most or all of these behaviors can be found in much more recent films.

On the topic of John Hughes, I have never found his movies all that special, with the lone exception of the very funny Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. If I want to watch 80s coming of age/teenage hijinks films, I will turn to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Karate Kid, Better Off Dead, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, etc. before I watch any John Hughes flicks.
 

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DaveF

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Then I doubt it happens since Brats indicates everyone except Andrew McCarthy has moved on with their life.
 

AlohaTiger

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They already did this —iTs called :
IMG_5274.jpeg
 

Desslar

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Deadline can reveal that Sony is exploring the possibility of making a new version of St. Elmo’s Fire. This version would hinge on reuniting original cast members Andrew McCarthy, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Mare Winningham.


Terrible timing. Maybe right after The Wedding Singer (1998) or the early days of Stranger Things (2016-) this could have worked with the original cast. But 80s nostalgia has cooled off a good bit since then, and the cast is way too old now.

Seems to me they would need to do one of the following:

1) Open with the original cast in the present day as a framing device and then cut to the late 80s or early 90s and have a younger lookalike cast act out the next chapter in the story.

2) Recast with younger leads (maybe make them the kids of the original characters) and set the story in the present day, having the characters face similar personal growth challenges but with a modern spin. Maybe have 80s songs covered by current groups.

Even with those tweaks it would have to have a pretty small budget since the audience is probably going to be small.


They already did this —iTs called :
View attachment 224852

Kind of, but not exactly. The Brat Pack would have to be labeled Sixtysomething today.
 

ManW_TheUncool

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1985 was the year I graduated from high school, many of the people I knew were very into the Brat Pack films, but particularly the women. They loved these films, this one was pretty huge with them. I saw it with a group of kids I went to high school with. Uniformly the women loved it. When they asked me what I thought of it...well...I was honest, I thought it was terrible. Not for anybody's behavior in it, I just saw it as a "chick flick" and the way the girls all talked about it seemed to prove that theory true.

I will confess something here, the girls and women of the 1980s liked the behavior displayed in this film. In fact, in the trailer, one of the women asks one of the guys why in all the nights they spent talking he never made a pass at her. Honestly, as a young man in the 1980s, I got asked that question, or why I never slept with this or that woman a lot. They wanted you to stalk them, to hit on them, to act inappropriately toward them. It was considered insulting if you did not. I was stalked by many women and girls in my youth. It was, kind of, in that timeframe, considered normal. I remember girls saying excitedly "I have a stalker!" like it was an exciting and wonderful thing. I lived through that time, so I know what it was like. I remember listening to a group of girls I knew excitedly talking about stalkers they had and one girl looking dejected saying she had never had a stalker. Pretty upside down from what that would be like today, I think.

Times do change, now I am not sure that how young people acted then is how they would act now. It seems like that kind of behavior would be frowned upon. I can assure you though, in the 1980s it was not. I didn't stalk anybody back then, the truth is I had no need to, I had an entire crew of women stalking me, often angry with me that I was way too polite and would not try to score with them. I was selective with the women I chased when I was young.

I have not seen this film, I think, since it came out on VHS, when a woman I knew in high school wanted to watch it with me. We had a group
of friends like this, men and women, and we were all friends, but some of the friends stuff came with "benefits" and this was not a one-way thing that the guys tried for, the girls wanted these benefits as well and insisted upon them.

The funny thing is, during a reunion not long ago, the women of my class were still the same. They still wanted things to be like they were in the 1980s. I guess you adapt to the time you grow-up in and those behaviors are seen as nostalgic as well.

I never liked 1980s music and I never was a fan of anybody in the Brat Pack, I was into different kinds of films and music. I was snobbish about movies then and so, I did not have kind things to say about the Brat Pack films. Maybe I should try watching this again to see how it plays for me now. The music is generally, one of the hardest hurdles to get over, I can't stand the theme song for this film.



;):D

Thing is I think that sorta feeling, impulse, instinct, etc have probably been around and pervaded (particularly young people still relatively newly filled to overdosing levels on their rush of hormones) throughout human history... and artists (of all sorts, including literary and music) have long created art about/for that... and Lester Bangs essentially even spoke (albeit briefly, loosely) of it about real/good music and true art and artists in Almost Famous. Sure, maybe we don't often/usually think about much of that as stalking, whatever other negatively connotated descriptor, etc, but it is by and large what it is... while most may learn and mature (mostly) beyond that to varying degrees and varying pace me thinks...

I mean, did Romeo not basically stalk Juliet? And did Juliet not essentially wish so very much for that? And of course, there are plenty other instances from The Bard and other great authors... and we continually have such stories and feelings, impulses, instincts, etc retold and passed on over and over again, even arguably very many more times than anything else in this relatively short history of the cinema... because it's clearly just a very substantial part of the human condition... for which R&J (and many/most all their predecessors and successors) even died (or certainly made very substantial sacrifices, if not necessarily always that)...

I should probably add that they generally, probably (mostly) didn't mean "stalking" in the most literal, (sociopathic) negative way though (as you're probably also very aware)... nor quite like how crazed, pop-rock fans might behave in/for the presence of their idols (certainly not limited to the youths of the 80's). :P

Of course it was a different time in some respects (Cold War for example), but I don't think this movie really highlights any major differences. I bet most or all of these behaviors can be found in much more recent films.

On the topic of John Hughes, I have never found his movies all that special, with the lone exception of the very funny Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. If I want to watch 80s coming of age/teenage hijinks films, I will turn to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Karate Kid, Better Off Dead, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, etc. before I watch any John Hughes flicks.

I don't really watch or care much for many of his films, particularly w/ the Brat Pack, either, but there are just a very few (best ones) I do like/enjoy enough, not only PT&A, which didn't involve any of the Brat Pack.

I did sorta enjoy a few more of them (and some others very-mediocre-at-best w/ various members of the Brat Pack) back in the day, but I was also a tad young(er than most my peers) and had perhaps too little exposure to (good) western cinema before them, heh...

I suppose I still have some bits of highly sentimental, nostalgic feeling (of sorts) for/about/around this particularly movie (and maybe a couple others), not that I necessarily wanna rewatch it/them ever again of course... but that may also be partly why y'all are here commenting as much as you do about it too, heh... ;):cool:

_Man_
 
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Winston T. Boogie

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Thing is I think that sorta feeling, impulse, instinct, etc have probably been around and pervaded (particularly young people still relatively newly filled to overdosing levels on their rush of hormones) throughout human history... and artists (of all sorts, including literary and music) have long created art about/for that... and Lester Bangs essentially even spoke (albeit briefly, loosely) of it about real/good music and true art and artists in Almost Famous. Sure, maybe we don't often/usually think about much of that as stalking, whatever other negatively connotated descriptor, etc, but it is by and large what it is... while most may learn and mature (mostly) beyond that to varying degrees and varying pace me thinks...

I mean, did Romeo not basically stalk Juliet? And did Juliet not essentially wish so very much for that? And of course, there are plenty other instances from The Bard and other great authors... and we continually have such stories and feelings, impulses, instincts, etc retold and passed on over and over again, even arguably very many more times than anything else in this relatively short history of the cinema... because it's clearly just a very substantial part of the human condition... for which R&J (and many/most all their predecessors and successors) even died (or certainly made very substantial sacrifices, if not necessarily always that)...

I should probably add that they generally, probably (mostly) didn't mean "stalking" in the most literal, (sociopathic) negative way though (as you're probably also very aware)... nor quite like how crazed, pop-rock fans might behave in/for the presence of their idols (certainly not limited to the youths of the 80's). :P

I guess the primary thing we are missing today is context, Man. I think society has become incredibly binary in the way everything is judged or described. The word "stalking" could mean a bunch of things based upon how it is used contextually. So, when I was in high school in the 1980s, the girls used it in a positive sense, the boys in a negative sense. The girls wanted, hoped for, bragged about boys stalking them. The boys were annoyed and saw it as a bad thing to have girls stalking them.

Now, stalking was basically thought of as following someone and spying on them without their knowledge or just showing up everyplace the person you were stalking was and pretending you had no idea they would be there. Fairly innocuous stuff but there could be a sexual element to it. However, in that timeframe, in the place where I lived, the girls tended to want to push things to a sexual conclusion more than the boys did. Honestly, my belief has always been that girls mature faster than boys and that is why I think the females stalking males had more of an intent to get to a sexual conclusion. Honestly, much of the time the girls could completely embarrass the boys that were stalking them, but if you confronted a female stalker, in my experience, they were not embarrassed, they were then generally angry and determined to get what they came for.

I think if I wrote a movie about my high school years and it was released now, it would be labelled disgusting male fantasy that is totally sexist and misogynistic. I do not think that people now could see it for what it was unless they lived through being in high school in the 1980s and perhaps my experiences were unique to me or the group I was with.

I do think Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a bit more like my high school days than John Hughes movies were. Hormones and art are a natural combination and teenagers can be completely overwhelmed by both.
 

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... The word "stalking" could mean a bunch of things based upon how it is used contextually. ...
But in this context, we're talking about a character who
  • Constructs an entire, non-existent romance in his mind over a fleeting moment as a college kid four or more years earlier.
  • Crashes a party in physical disarray and emotional distress looking for her
  • Goes uninvited to a woman's house, shouting to wake her up late at night because of his imagined relationship with her
  • Berates and threatens with violence her neighbor who (reasonably) asks him to be quiet so she can sleep
  • Drives to her secluded weekend away with her boyfriend and arrives late at night uninvited
  • Forces a kiss on her after learning she is in a committed relationship
He's a stalker in every negative meaning of the word. In the real world, the target of his "hunt" is scared, threatened, in danger. She's at real risk of physical violence, even being killed by this man.

We recognize this clearly watching from our 2024 perspective. That it's played for laughs, that he's the valourous man, that she's shown swooning for him, is really gross today.

Was it gross 40 years ago? I was too young then to be aware of any of this. But my overall impression, and indicated from the Siskel and Ebert review, is that adults also recognized this as ooky even in the dark ages of the 1980's.
 

Desslar

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But in this context, we're talking about a character who
  • Constructs an entire, non-existent romance in his mind over a fleeting moment as a college kid four or more years earlier.
  • Crashes a party in physical disarray and emotional distress looking for her
  • Goes uninvited to a woman's house, shouting to wake her up late at night because of his imagined relationship with her
  • Berates and threatens with violence her neighbor who (reasonably) asks him to be quiet so she can sleep
  • Drives to her secluded weekend away with her boyfriend and arrives late at night uninvited
  • Forces a kiss on her after learning she is in a committed relationship
He's a stalker in every negative meaning of the word. In the real world, the target of his "hunt" is scared, threatened, in danger. She's at real risk of physical violence, even being killed by this man.

We recognize this clearly watching from our 2024 perspective. That it's played for laughs, that he's the valourous man, that she's shown swooning for him, is really gross today.

Was it gross 40 years ago? I was too young then to be aware of any of this. But my overall impression, and indicated from the Siskel and Ebert review, is that adults also recognized this as ooky even in the dark ages of the 1980's.
Firstly I'd say that the 1980s was a far brighter age than today in many respects. But that's a separate discussion.

I think you are looking at the film with a real world sensibility. Yes, some of Kirby's actions would raise concerns in the real world, but they are not particularly abnormal in the context of movie world romance. This film was preceded by decades of romantic drama/comedies which begin with the female lead strongly disliking or ignoring the male lead, followed by a long period of extremely persistent pursuit (one might say obnoxious or even illegal in some cases) by the man until the woman is finally won over.

Take for example the action of Cary Grant's character in His Girl Friday (1940) - he wantonly interferes with the marriage plans of his ex-wife (who is no fan of his) and her fiance, including getting her fiance arrested twice. In the real world he would might be viewed as a possessive, unhinged jerk, but in the movie his intrusive actions are played off as comedy and he wins back his ex-wife's heart in the end.

In this sense, St. Elmo's Fire is less supportive of the Kirby character. He doesn't get the girl in the end, just a mildly patronizing brush-off.
 

Winston T. Boogie

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But in this context, we're talking about a character who
  • Constructs an entire, non-existent romance in his mind over a fleeting moment as a college kid four or more years earlier.
  • Crashes a party in physical disarray and emotional distress looking for her
  • Goes uninvited to a woman's house, shouting to wake her up late at night because of his imagined relationship with her
  • Berates and threatens with violence her neighbor who (reasonably) asks him to be quiet so she can sleep
  • Drives to her secluded weekend away with her boyfriend and arrives late at night uninvited
  • Forces a kiss on her after learning she is in a committed relationship
He's a stalker in every negative meaning of the word. In the real world, the target of his "hunt" is scared, threatened, in danger. She's at real risk of physical violence, even being killed by this man.

We recognize this clearly watching from our 2024 perspective. That it's played for laughs, that he's the valourous man, that she's shown swooning for him, is really gross today.

Was it gross 40 years ago? I was too young then to be aware of any of this. But my overall impression, and indicated from the Siskel and Ebert review, is that adults also recognized this as ooky even in the dark ages of the 1980's.

I have not seen the film since the 1980s, I think, and as with many films I did not like, I can't remember large portions of it. I don't want to excuse any of the behavior in the film, my point on stalking in the 1980s and this film was, the women/girls I knew back then loved this film, never mentioned issues with the behavior in it, and generally talked about stalking and stalkers like it was a positive thing...basically like it was affirmation that boys/men wanted you.

You know the film much better than I do, Dave, so I have no doubt your descriptions of what goes on in it are accurate.

I think when people look back at older films now, they do tend to look at behavior in them and then describe that behavior as repulsive and say "Well, that should not be depicted as funny!"

Isn't it Pretty in Pink that has the Asian character that now causes people to say that film should be banned and destroyed? Hughes did use the inappropriate for laughs, but basically, everybody did in the 1980s.

I will go try to look at the Siskel and Ebert review of St. Elmos Fire. I have been watching some of their Best and Worst of the year shows on Youtube recently. Kind of interesting what I discover in them.
 
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AlohaTiger

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16 Candles is the one you’re thinking of with the Long Duk Dong scene. You should read what Gedde Watanabe thinks about that scene and the controversy it has now. He basically says that he didn’t think anything of it at the time and it was something that was just accepted—ie. “It was a different time“ and acknowledges that it wouldn’t be accepted today.
I grew up with these films & was kinda the right age —12 in 85, and rewatching Pretty in Pink & 16 Candles now , it seems that they are just a big whine fest for both of Molly Ringwald’s characters. Ducky is the only saving grace for Pretty in Pink. However, Some Kind of Wonderful still holds up for me as I originally like that one better anyway.
 
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