Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Musical > Backstage > Teens > Fame (1980/Warner Blu-ray + 2009/MGM-Fox Blu-ray)

Fame (1980/Warner Blu-ray + 2009/MGM-Fox Blu-ray)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-/B     Extras: C+/D     Film: C+/D



For a film that was a very mixed affair, Alan Parker’s 1980 hit Fame has an interesting and important place in the history of the Hollywood Musical.  Not exactly a groundbreaker, it is a transitional work, especially at a time when key films were being made that deconstructed the genre (Scorsese’s New York, New York (1978) and Herbert Ross’ adaptation of Dennis Potter’s Pennies From Heaven (1981)) and it was slowly returning infused with Rock and Pop music in new ways thanks to Grease and soundtrack-driven non-musicals like Saturday Night Fever and Urban Cowboy.


Of course, MTV would arrive two years later, sideling a full comeback for Musicals for a while, but not before that style melded with trends Fame and other hits of the time added.  Prior to MTV and the cable explosion, the idea of becoming a music star was based on real talent and there was a then-powerful record industry that knew how to sign talent, was run by people who usually loved music and all the genres were still fresh and original.  Even the earliest signs of what became Hip Hop had set when Parker’s film arrived.


The story of students working very hard at New York City’s High School For The Performing Arts was a great true story to bring to life in a fictional way.  Christopher Gore’s screenplay focuses on five characters through four years of their lives and though not the raw music film it could have been, has its moments and Parker had debuted with a Musical back in 1976 with the underrated Bugsy Malone (reviewed elsewhere on this site).  Too bad he was not up to speed when he made this film, coming off of the tough shoot that was Midnight Express (1978, unreviewed, but now out in a solid Blu-ray edition).


On the plus side, some of the songs are very good and the cast included rising star Irene Cara (Sparkle, The Electric Company, et al) as Coco, a singer who believes she could succeed, helped by her meeting and befriending songwriter Bruno (Lee Curreri) whose father is a cab driver and loves him enough to want to see him succeed.  Cara and Curreri have some chemistry which was more challenging then as she is a young lady of color and he a young white male, but that was part of the progressive, positive side of the film.  The late, underappreciated Gene Anthony Ray was a dancer in the film and his character’s possible gayness is a rare positive portrait of any gayness in any cinema of the time.


However, the overall film can barely handle all the talent, including fellow cast members Laura Dean, Maureen Teefy, Paul McCrane, Barry Miller, Jim Moody, Anne Meara, Richard Belzer, Issac Mizrahi, an uncredited Holland Taylor and Debbie Allen, a great talent in her own right who became a major player in the first hit TV series version, helping it last for six seasons.  Why, because Musicals have an older narrative from and the music and world here does not cohere with the music, newer styles and new talent.


That does not necessarily extend to the music being a problem.  Michael Gore composed the instrumental score and the great Leslie Gore (It’s My Party) co-wrote Hot Lunch Jam and the other big hit single form the film, Out Here On My Own as sung by Cara.  It is interesting pop music in that it sounds like a Musical in lyric structure, especially in the way the lyrics forward the narrative, but the style adds Rock, Soul and yes, some Disco in the way the music is composed and conducted.  Parker and his longtime Director of Photography Michael Seresin try to find a new style (down to the editing with Gerry Hambling) and almost create what became the 1980s style.


The key scene I would refer to is when the cab driver father plays his son’s song (with Cara/Coco vocals) from his cab with installed loudspeakers connected to a tape player and blasts it in front of the school.  The students hear it, recognize it, start to come out of the school and drop whatever they are doing, run into the streets, stop traffic all over that strip of New York City and break into a giant spontaneous burst of dancing all over the place.  Of course, it is rehearsed, but in its original form as intended here, it is supposed to reflect the collective school of art, the love of that art by all the hopeful students and the possibilities the song (by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford) speak to.


This has to do with hard work, living out a dream, finding happiness and success, living the American Dream and via the racial diversity of the school, overcoming the past and all of its hatreds thereof.  That places it as part of the liberal counterculture discourse the film comes out of, which includes said Disco flavor to this and some of the other songs.  That does not make the Disco, but Disco enough.  The scene has not always aged well because of its age, the editing, the fact that it become one of the most imitated scenes in 1980s cinema and was the last hurrah for such things before the Reagan Era and Rollback mentality set in.


As repeated in Flashdance (the “what a feeling” film), Footloose and others, the combination of MTV style and regressive politics took that scene and recycled it into an insincere, condescending, backwards idea that the dancing does not get you anywhere, if you dance you only should to make a fool out of yourself, there is nothing to be happy about and the arts and education are a dead end.  Pitchford’s music writing for films after Fame has been awful and he never recovered artistically.  Just waste your energy and let other people use you was the message with the MTV editing, politics and even anger that contradicts the intended spirit of the original Fame and the Hollywood Musical tradition.


This was the last Musical from the original MGM before the company merged with United Artists, ending an era of the studio that made the more expensive and successful Musicals than any other studio.  Fortunately, they ended on a high note including the film making money, getting two Oscars out of six nominations (two of the nominations were for Best Song, the first time this ever happened in Academy Awards history) and gave Hollywood a model to make more music films on.  MGM/UA made more musicals, of course, but this was one to be proud of just the same.


That brings us to the 2009 remake, or the fourth time for the franchise after the 1980 film and two TV series.  What should have been a great opportunity to update or continue the ideas set by the first film are squandered in the most embarrassing ways.  For starters, Debbie Allen may appear in the new film, but she should have been hired to direct, co-write and co-choreograph.  If that had happened and a better script was better, maybe Cara would have been interested in returning, but she wisely stayed away from a film as condescending (and more so) than any 1980s imitator of the original Fame.


Instead, Reality TV dance director Kevin Tancharoen was hired and through total inexperience, made the worst possible, mechanical, tired, unspontaneous, weak, formulaic, shallow, pathetic retread possible down to the robotic remake of the title song at the end of the film that is quickly forgotten.  Maybe he could have been an assistant director and/or co-choreographer, but has zero idea on how to do a full length narrative work.  Add the paper thin screenplay adaptation by Allison Burnett, whose many screenplays (like the disappointing Resurrecting The Champ and awful Untraceable) have been a string of disasters and you get one of the biggest disasters of her career.  Together, the concept of a Backstage Musical seems like a foreign concept they cannot begin to grasp.


The new cast was found mostly from a talent search and though they have talent, you never believe for a second they are these characters.  Allen, Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth, Charles S. Dutton and Kelsey Grammer also show up, but they cannot save this sinking ship either.  You never believe they are struggling to better themselves and see zero growth here in their characters.  New songs might have helped, but that would be much too ambitious for this hack recycling, despite the opportunities the material lens itself to a remake.  The original theatrical cut is 25 (yes, twenty-five minutes!) shorter that the 1980 film with a PG rating, while the uncut version (which would rate PG-13 at best) is still ten minutes shorter than the 1980 film that was rated R.  This is because MGM and Lakeshore Entertainment (who also lost money on the Musical film of Nine with The Weinstein Company, proving they do not understand musical either) hoped the film could capitalize on TV talent contests and other angry reality TV, plus any fans of Disney’s High School Musical franchise.  No one was fooled and this rightly bombed.


Maybe the new talent will find better work and become a success later, but all they can to here is look good at best in a static work that drowns them and anyone who watches.  You can’t remember anyone’s name when the film is so forgettable.



The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital high definition image for the original film was shot in 35mm film and despite looking a little soft, actually looks a little more realistic and palpable than the annoying 1080p 2.35 X 1 AVC @ 28 MBPS digital high definition image the remake offers with its weaker Super 35mm film shoot, color gutted in the digital internegative process.  It has motion blur, weak color and the camera just cannot stand still like the camera operators are drunk.  It makes New York and all involved look bad too.  Director of Photography Scott Kevan should not have shot this like he did Death Race, but he did.


The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix on the original film is a mixed bag like most Musicals of the time, with the music sounding much better than the recorded dialogue, which can be too much in the center channel for its own good.  In 70mm blow-ups the film was released in, it had a 4.1 Dolby magnetic stereo multi-track mix and you can hear how interesting some of those sound choices are.  There is some compressed sound even in the music, but this is not bad for its age.  The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on the new film should be articulate and spectacular, but is instead not very articulate and does not have the soundstage of the best Musicals we have seen lately (Hairspray, Chicago, Dreamgirls), which is a huge handicap for a new release.  It is also harsh and shrill on the edges and is barely better than the 1980 film’s sound when all is said and done.


Extras on the original film include the bonus CD with four tracks form the original RSO Records soundtrack, as now issued by Warner/Rhino Records including the hit title theme by Cara, Hot Lunch Jam (supposed an alternate title for the film) by Cara, Red Light with lead singer Linda Clifford and an instrumental version of the title song.  Its Blu-ray adds the Original Theatrical Trailer, Fame Field Trip visiting the actual school of the film, On Location with Fame vintage featurette and Class Reunion Commentary with Branching Video Highlights (something only Blu-ray can do) with Parker, Curreri, Dean, Ray and Teely.


The new film has a DVD-ROM Digital Copy disc for PC and PC portable devices, a Music Video for the lame remake of the title song, Deleted Scenes, Remember My Name Character Profiles, Fame National Talent Search Finalists featurette and The Dances of Fame featurette.  It is underwhelming much like the rest of the remake and only solidifies what a mistake it was to make it this way.  See the original or nothing at all.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com