FAME (1980) and FAME (2009) Blu-ray Reviews

What may be most shocking about the 2009 remake of Fame is that it really is a remake. And with the release of both the 1980 original and remake now on Blu-ray, a quick compare and contrast can be done. Both films follow a group of students (in 1980, Maureen Teefy, Irene Cara, Paul McCrane, and Barry Miller are the stand outs, in 2009, it’s Kay Panabaker, Naturi Naughton, Walter Perez, and Paul Iacono)  through their four years at a prestigious New York performance arts school where they learn to act, sing and dance. My Reviews of both versions of Fame after the jump.

In 1980, Alan Parker’s film must have been seen as a slice of life kind of thing. Half realism, half-playtime, it’s about a group of kids as they come up and the life lessons they get about being a performer. For one (Maureen Teefy) it’s realizing that she’s a boring white girl, for the dude who played Emil in Robocop, it’s admitting that he’s gay (Paul McCrane), others have to learn how to control themselves by either committing themselves to getting educated, or not flying too high (Barry Miller’s character experiences the high of being a successful comic and falls into a mostly off-screen abuse problem).

The best scene in the film is the hardest, where Irene Cara’s character is picked up by a filmmaker, who – when he gets her in for an audition – asks her to strip. It’s shot from the TV’s perspective, and it’s a truly uncomfortable moment of voyeurism. There’s also the music, which has Irene Cara’s most famous song, “Fame.” And Cara’s role and nudity in the film gives it a greater sense of poignancy. Though Cara had a couple moments in the spotlight, by the 90’s she was mostly a voice actress or appearing in low rent crap, and what she is best known for is the song where she asks the listener to remember her name. That desperate plea for attention is at the heart of the movie, and though the film never delves too far into the deep emotional troubles that often plague actors and performers who long for the spotlight, that Cara failed – and is best known for a pop song about that desperation – that the majority of the performers in the movie are much like the characters they portray gives the film that kick of how few make it to any sort of greater success. But for a generation, they remember Irene Cara, if only for this.

Parker’s film also benefits from essentially being a 70’s film, so it is geared more towards realism, and though most of the performers are sketching characters in brief bits, they get across a communal sense of what it means to want to be a performer. It’s by no stretch a great movie, but it accomplishes what it sets out to, even if it does so in some familiar ways.

Warner Brothers Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD. The film looks good for the age, not amazing, but the photography was never meant to be crystal clear, so the soft focus stuff looks good, but doesn’t crackle with the same authority as some films of the period. Extras are lifted from the previous special edition, there’s a commentary by Alan Parker, and branching video during the film, with comments from Parker, and actors Maureen Teefy, Gene Anthony Ray, Lee Curreri, and Laura Dean. There’s a period making of (12 min.) and a “Fame Field Trip” (11 min.) which visits the film’s locations. Also included are the film’s theatrical trailer, and a CD with a soundtrack sampler, including three songs, and an instrumental version of “Fame.”

I was expecting 2009’s remake to capitalize on the success of films like Step Up 2 The Streets, and turn this more into a performance film. Instead it’s a fairly routine version of the same story, but the things that gave the original its oomph (like Cara’s porno audition, or one kid outing themselves) are somewhat different stakes in the 21st century. No street smart kid would go into someone’s apartment for an audition without agent approval, the stakes would be different, and this doesn’t want to go down that road (sex is mostly absent from this, it was originally PG). They don’t even really make a big deal out of gayness in this version, which is odd, but this is a dumbed down and less interesting version of the same story, which would be fine if it took advantage of having actors who don’t even have to act if they can dance in a film like this. This should be a performance piece, with great musical numbers if it’s not going to get close to authenticity, but instead it settles on a routine drama with less fleshed out performers than the original.

So the best story is about the black girl whose parents want her to be a pianist, but she wants to be a singer (Naturi Naughton), other than that you’ve got a filmmaker who gets scammed, some interracial possible couplings, and four years of struggling, ending with a big performance piece, as did the original. Here you have more famous teachers (Bebe Newirth, Kesley Grammar – though the two don’t remind us of their past history – Megan Mullaly, and Charles S. Dutton). But, again, the film doesn’t offer much more than a watered down version of the original, and it doesn’t have the poignancy of that film, and probably won’t until a cast member either achieves fame or OD’s. If the original offered clichés that might be true, this offers a pilot.

Twentieth Century Fox presents the film on Blu-ray in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS 5.1 HD audio. The transfer is perfect. The film comes in the theatrical version (107 min.) and an extended cut (123 min.) The Blu-ray set also comes with a digital copy. As for extras, there are fifteen Deleted scenes (18 min.), a music video for the remake of the hit song Fame, eleven character profiles of the actors and director (17 min.), a featurette on the national finalists from the public audition for the movie (7 min.), and one on “The Dances of Fame” (7 min.).

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