Saturday, January 16, 2016

CANON OF FILM: "FAME"

FAME (1980)

Director: Alan Parker
Screenplay: Christopher Gore



Somehow in the midst of watching numerous late 70s-80s films about teenagers, I missed “Fame,” until very recently. For some reason I kept skipping it when it would be played on TV, and maybe that’s a good thing because I don’t think it would’ve effected as much when I was younger as it does now. Having my whole life now based being a part of and relying on a community of artistic and creative people, it certainly makes more sense for me now, the benefits and the struggles of going to a high school for performing arts. I’ve noticed how many characters in British Director Alan Parker’s films struggle, both inwardly and outwardly. Probably his best film is “Mississippi Burning”, which I have a Canon of Film post written for somewhere, but it’s not one of my better writing’s, so I’ve long postponed posting that one; I need to revisit that film again before I talk about it, but that’s a great film dealing with the struggles of racism, both overcoming and fighting in, in the public eye, lawful eye and even within oneself. Before “Fame,” however, he had made two other films, “Bugsy Malone,” a film noir although done with teenagers, and the Oliver Stone penned “Midnight Express”, about a man who gets caught trying to smuggle hash, and gets sent to a Turkish prison for ten years. I’ve also seen his film “The Commitments,” about a bunch of scrappy young Irishmen trying to form an R&B band, as well as the film adaptation of “Pink Floyd’s The Wall”, so there is also a musical stream in his work as well.

Looking at “Fame,” I’m compelled not by the musical aspects of it. Despite the two Oscars the movie got for the music, I was more intrigued by the students, not just the personal stories, some of which go from melodramatic cliché to outright painful realism, but also by how ironically little fame itself is actually apart of their lives. (The title was a last minute addition to the film, but now, it’s the nickname of the New York High School of Performing Arts where the film takes place) There’s unbelievable hope that lies within the characters, but from the beginning we, and they, are constantly aware and reminded about how hard and unlikely it is to become quote-unquote “famous”. There’s hardly any talk about people becoming famous or successful, and becoming great stars, and the few characters that talk about it eventually seem to precede an impending doom that smashes their perception. Parker and Screenwriter Christopher Gore are observant, in that people don’t become successful; they’re there because they’re artists, and they have to be, or at least they think they are. In the end of the movie, it’s interesting how you can imagine the characters in the future, and you can see where they’ll go and what paths they’ll probably take, but you don’t think about them as being successful, or which will probably be. Parker borrows a lot from Bob Fosse in how the songs and musical numbers are naturally incorporated into the film without suspending the narrative conceit like most musicals, and for the most part he’s quite successful. Parker’s films and characters are always striving for a greater goal but he hardly allows them to fully succeed, and if they do, it’s a hollow victory.


Look at how Doris (Maureen Teefy) who has the most drastic character arc, has success at finding herself from becoming a wallflower to an impromptu member of the local Rocky Horror troupe, or how Ralph (Barry Miller) nearly destroys himself, almost entirely because his hero, Freddie Prinze had done so. Some of the actors became famous after. Irene Cara won an Oscar for the title song to “Flashdance,” Paul McCrane you’ll recognize from “ER”, Isaac Mizrahi became the world famous fashion designer, and a few went on to do the TV series “Fame,” but for the most part, very few of these actors became well-known. They’ve remade this recently; I have no idea why but there’s so much good material in the original, that you really could’ve made five or six good movies out of it. (It very clear how a TV show could’ve been made from the film), and a surprising amount of the material is still original, especially compared to similar movies which seem to draw upon cliché storytelling than actually create fascinating characters. This is one of those movies that clearly makes others in the genre of coming-of-age musicals seem inadequate and unknowning. If you want to know why “Fame,” got six Oscar nominations, watch “High School Musical”.

(Oh, I did try to watch the remake recently, I barely got a few minutes into it before I just changed the channel. Just skip it.) 
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