Thursday, 6 September 2007
Fame (1980) dir. Alan Parker
Starring: Irene Cara, Gene Anthony Ray, Paul McCrane, Lee Curreri
“Fame” is the original 1980 film that inspired the long-running television series. It tells the story of an arts school in downtown Manhattan and the myriad of soap opera stories of its students. The film is about many things, love, life, art, death, sex etc etc. If it’s topical, it’s in there. For this reason it feels like television – though I don’t know if it’s because it was the ideal adaptation for television, or that I knew the television series so well I could only see it as such. In any case, it’s good melodramatic material, but aside from a couple musical moments, it’s surprisingly devoid of the creativity and life the genre demands.
“Fame” is rooted in the diversity of its characters – dancers, musicians, actors. Some of the characters are interesting, some are not. Leroy the brooding dancer (Gene Anthony Ray) from the inner city is the most interesting. He has been undereducated and can’t read. He compensates by trash-talking and exerting streetwise superiority over his English teacher Ms. Sherwood (Ben Stiller’s mom, Anne Meara). Sherwood eventually tames the wild artist. Then there’s Bruno (Lee Curreri), the piano-playing son of a cab-driver who wrestles with a burgeoning pop career against his classical training. Actors Ralph, Doris and Montgomery have an odd three-way friendship. Montogomery (Paul McCrane) is gay and feels threatened when Ralph and Doris start dating. All them struggle with identifying themselves as actors and how to make a living as such. Coco (Irena Cara) the talented singer is underrealized. There’s a spark of a relationship with Bruno but it never goes beyond forlorn eye-gazing. Her final tribulation, a sleazy casting audition for a soft-porn director, is established right before the finale but never resolved.
These issues are television material and we never receive proper closure with the characters, and in the case of Coco left completely hanging. The film is structured according to the four years of the high school curriculum, including inter-titles identifying which year the kids are in. The problem is that the benchmarks achieved by the students are not reflected in their behaviour or maturity. It could all have taken place over the span of a year, a summer, or even a frosh-week.
Visually the film looks like top quality cinema. At the helm is the British director Alan Parker who had previously directed the hit – “Midnight Express”. That film has passion and drive. “Fame” just coasts along without a clear point to it all – there’s no engine driving the film. Musically the film disappoints as well. There’s only two fun sequence in the film, including the celebrated ‘dancing through the streets’ scene set to Irene Cara’s title song. The final number, “I Sing the Body Electric” is good – unfortunately that’s the end of the film. It short changes us the extravagant jubilee we expect from that type of film.
Parker and Oscar-nominated writer Christopher Gore seem to have made a conscious decision to go serious and brooding and explore the dark side of the artists at the expense of some badly needed joie de vivre. Watch it for nostalgic purposes only.
Buy it here: Fame