After the “Fire”
Remembering a movie classic’s Washington history
They don't make movies like St. Elmo's Fire any more. It's not just that the kids in coming-of-age movies are getting younger. It's that movies set in DC now need to involve action—Michael Bay's Transformers are set to tear up the National Mall next summer—or at least espionage, like the tense-but-sedate Breach, not everyday people. The movie turns 25 this year, and Joel Schumacher has written a great remembrance of the film for Entertainment Weekly. It's not online yet, but these are the best tidbits:
I was staying in Georetown. One weekend, I was sitting at an outdoor cafe alone. It was the early '80s, and Georgetown was like a little village of yuppies. It was the height of Reaganomics. The heroes were Donald Trump and Michael Milken and Leona Helmsley. The attitude became "I'm rich, f—- you." And all of these kids were coming out of universities with 20-year plans. I felt sorry for them. I was listening to their conversations and I thought, "What must it be like to spit out of these universities, thinking 'I better make a lot of money'?" No one had done a movie about yuppies yet.
And then this, a terrific illustration of university administration:
We weren't allowed to shoot at Georgetown [University] because the Jesuit fathers said they couldn't condone premarital sex. I met with one of them, thinking about The Exorcist, which was shot there, and said, "Wasn't there a movie shot here where a prepubescent masturbated with a crucifix and said, 'Your mother sucks c—ks in hell'?" He smiled and said "That is true, Mr. Schumacher, but in that particular film God wins over the devil, which does not seem to be the case in St. Elmo's Fire. We ended up shooting at the University of Maryland.
It's too bad the obsession with Ivy League schools has drawn movies and television away from Washington and to fictionalized versions of Cambridge and New Haven. Washington universities are interesting, vibrant places. There's no reason they couldn't be worked into even the conventional espionage and spy narratives. Covert Affairs does a bit of this. But there's no reason there couldn't be more of Washington's gorgeous campuses, politically ambitious students, and even some more of those Jesuits with a sense of humor.