Flashback 1986: ‘Wisdom’

Flashback to the year 1986: a year of feathered hair, cassette tapes and when MTV actually played music videos. American River College looked different; there were no parking issues or high enrollment fees and an arcade could be found on campus in the Student Center. That same year, ARC’s football stadium and parking lot A and B were filmed to provide background in Emilio Estevez’s directorial debut, “Wisdom.”

The 1986 Current staff requested an interview from Estevez. However, Estevez replied, “For this movie I am not granting interviews because I may lose my concentration.”

“Wisdom,” the story of a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, celebrated its 25-year anniversary on Jan. 2.  Estevez wrote the script and starred in his own film as the lead, John Wisdom. Demi Moore, Estevez’s fiancé at the time and who has recently made headlines after being hospitalized for convulsions, starred as Wisdom’s girlfriend, Karen Williams. His brother, Charlie Sheen, also starred in “Wisdom” as the manager of City Burger.

“My dad wanted me to become a lawyer. My mom said I should become a doctor,” Estevez’s character Wisdom said. “I became a convicted felon instead.”

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Wisdom, an unemployed 23 year old, has been turned down or fired from every job because of a felony (grand theft auto) charge on his record. Frustrated, he decided to be what the world viewed him as: a criminal. In the spirit of Robin Hood, Wisdom and Williams set fires to foreclosure and mortgage documents in multiple banks to take a stand against greedy banks and help the poor become richer.

The film also starred one of ARC’s faculty members, Thom Witt-Ellis, who taught theater arts in the late 1980s. Filmed in Roseville, Witt-Ellis portrayed one of the two Albuquerque police officers that told Moore’s character to move her car. Unknown to the officers, Wisdom had just robbed the bank and Williams was parked there as his getaway driver. As the police pulled away, Witt-Ellis told the couple to, “Have a nice day.”

Witt-Ellis had one other scene in the movie, but ultimately after the editing process, it was cut from the movie. According to Witt-Ellis, the deleted scene included him and his partner being yelled at by the police chief for letting Wisdom and Williams “slip through their fingers.”

The casting director, Mary Dangerfield, conducted a campus-wide casting call for 200 students to participate as unpaid extras in the scenes filmed at ARC. The students were told to drive their own cars to the set, to provide background props for the movie. The campus needed to give the impression of a mid-western high school in the middle of winter, so Dangerfield advised the students of the desired dress code.

“Nothing too outrageous or California-ish,” Dangerfield said to the extras according to The Current. “You are atmosphere.”

Roseville Market and downtown Sacramento were used in the film, but the films closing scenes show Wisdom and Williams being chased by police officers from ARC’s parking lot to a classroom on campus. This is where the couple said goodbye to each other and Wisdom began a standoff with the police on the home side of the bleachers.

“I saw the way it ended. It seemed like a dream,” Witt-Ellis said. “It was ambiguous, the ending. It left me kind of guessing.”

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