Carl Kurlander and St. Elmos Fire
Griffth Theater, Duke Campus—While a student at Duke, Carl Kurlander had a crush on a girl who worked at the St. Elmo Hotel. “I had a professor at Duke I asked if I could write a short story so moving that a girl would fall in love with me,” he says. “Instead of discouraging me, she said ‘Write it!'”
Kurlander didn’t get the girl, but the resulting short story, “St. Elmo’s Fire,” wound up getting him a scholarship to Universal Studios. Joel Schumacher directed the 1985 hit film version that’s still remembered for its “Brat Pack” cast and theme song performed by John Parr.
Now, more than two decades later, Kurlander is back at Duke for a screening of both Fire and his directorial debut, the documentary My Tale of Two Cities. Kurlander, who works as visiting distinguished senior lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh, was inspired to do the film after moving back to his home town of Pittsburgh, which explores his relationship with the city as it fell into and started to recover from hard times.
Kurlander, who now divides his time between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, says Two Cities is a sort of “Can you go home again?” piece that explores his efforts to figure out how to help the city by talking to figures from its history, including the inspirations for characters on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. “People talk about it like it’s a Roger and Me, and it wound up becoming Mr. Rogers and Me.” Kurlander says.
Incidentally, Kurlander says the speech about “St. Elmo’s Fire” delivered by Rob Lowe in the film version is mostly inaccurate: “[Schumacher] pointed out that the studio might change the name of the film, so I had to make St. Elmo’s fire part of the plot,” Kurlander says. “If I’d been able to do Internet research back then, it might have been called something completely different!”
Kurlander will introduce tonight’s free 11:30 p.m. screening. —Zack Smith