In a world full of disposable entertainment about the trials and tribulations of being a talented teen, i.e. AMERICAN IDOL, HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and now GLEE, it's nice to see where this genre got it's start.
FAME (1980, directed by Alan Parker) was a gritty, realistic, R-rated Academy Award-winning film about a group of young entertainers struggling to make it through four years of New York's High School of the Performing Arts. The film was well written, expertly directed, wonderfully acted and featured some great music. I'll never forget Irene Cara's brave performance as Coco. Parker also directed powerful and poignant films like MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, SHOOT THE MOON, THE WALL, BIRDY, ANGEL HEART, MISSISSIPPI BURNING and ANGELA'S ASHES.
FAME (2009, directed by Kevin Tancharoen), on the other hand, is a weak blinged-out PG-rated re-imagining about a group of mostly annoying pretty people struggling to make us give a shit about them as they are berated by former sitcom stars over how talented or untalented they are. The hip-hop drenched soundtrack is joyless with the only good songs being the few swiped from the original film (and the enjoyable Black & Gold by Sam Sparro) Oh, and Tancharoen also directed a Britney Spears tour.
In between the two FAME films came a well-made weekly TV series that ran for six seasons (1982-87) and a short-lived spin-off/revival called FAME L.A. (1997-98). FAME also became a reality show (2003) and has been the basis for several stage musicals (FAME: THE MUSICAL, FAME ON 42ND STREET and FAME FOREVER).
Getting back to the current film version–which a saw this weekend as part of a birthday celebration for my good friend Dennis Hensley–it does have some merits. The opening titles were cool. It was good to see Debbie Allen included in the cast and the sampling of her famous inspirational mantra ("You want fame? ... Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying. With sweat.") was a nice touch, as too was the brief nod to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. I also think that Naturi Naughton (she plays Denise Dupree) has true star quality. Every time she is on screen, she shines.
But thanks to FAME (2009) I now know...
•....hand-held camera work doesn't guarantee grittiness - only nauseousness
•...there are no openly gay kids enrolled in the High School of the Performing Arts, unless you count the asexual boy who wants to be a ballet dancer.
• ...that it is always winter in New York City.
• ...where former sitcom stars (Charles S. Dutton of ROC, Megan Mullally of WILL & GRACE, Kelsey Grammer of FRAISER and Bebe Neuwirth of CHEERS) go to die.
• ...I will never request Ms. Mullally to sing "You Took Advantage of Me" when we go to karaoke together.
• ...every record producer, film producer and successful teen actor are out to take advantage of students from the High School of the Performing Arts.• ...all African American parents don't want their kids to be stars.
• ...it takes exactly four years to resolve things that arise on your first day of class as an incoming freshman.• ...the loser kid who is told he'll never be a star and should return home to the farm in Iowa can be featured front & center in the big finale.
• ...a tribute to THE LION KING is no replacement for running and jumping and dancing through the streets of New York City.
Did I hate FAME? No. Would I recommend it? Hell no. But if you are a big fan of the original and/or the TV series you should check it out at some point.