Down From the Shelf ~ Fame (1980)


The Facts:

Synopsis: A chronicle of the lives of several teenagers who attend a New York high school for students gifted in the performing arts.

Stars: Irene Cara, Lee Curreri, Laura Dean, Antonia Franceschi, Paul McCrane, Maureen Teefy, Gene Anthony Ray, Barry Diller, Joanna Merlin, Anne Meara

Director: Alan Parker

Rated: R

Running Length: 134 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  Inevitably, when I was perusing my local video store I would spend a significant amount of time in the horror section and on the way up to the check-out I’d have to pass by the musicals where the box for Fame always caught my eye.  It could be that it was that it was next to Grease 2 or it could be that there was a foreshadowing of my interests moving forward.  When I finally saw Fame I was surprised to see that it wasn’t a musical in the traditional sense of the word but more of a drama with musical sequences.  Over the years and with each passing viewing I find a deeper appreciation for a movie that’s about a certain time and a certain place…and winds up being timeless.

A work of fiction that follows a handful of students attending the famously real New York High School of the Performing Arts through their auditions all the way up to their graduation, Fame is a rich film of layers that sticks with you long after the credits roll.  Though it’s dotted with characters that represent mostly broad archetypes (mousy girl, tough guy, black girl, gay guy, tough-love teacher, etc) Christopher Gore’s script treats them all with respect and care so that you find yourself identifying easily with their dreams, hopes, disappointments, missteps, and successes.  It also helps that the cast is uniformly excellent.

The musical sequences spring from real life situations and are staged with flair by director Alan Parker (Evita).   Michael Gore’s original score won an Oscar as did Gore and Dean Pitchford’s classic title song sung by star Irene Cara in a now-famous scene where the students swarm out of the school to dance on top of cars in the street.  In addition to up-tempo songs there are truly lovely ones as well like Cara’s “Out Here On My Own” and Paul McCrane’s wistful “Is It Okay if I Call You Mine?”, to name a few.

As the movie draws to a close it purposefully leaves ends loose and storylines unresolved because the journey these characters are going through still continues.  Ending in a joyous celebration of dance, music, and singing, Fame hits the high notes and goes out on one too.  If you’re someone that resists musicals this and 1979’s All That Jazz are two excellent “kinda musicals” that have equals amounts of music and drama.  Oh…and avoid the awful and unnecessary 2009 remake like the plague.

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