Fame Must Be Raw
Review of the Fame 2009 remake, by Stefan Stenudd
I tried to see the 2009 remake of Fame, about New York students of the performing arts. But it didn't grab me, not at all. It was just a bunch of scenes. The film makers might have watched the 1980 original, but they didn't learn from it.
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The characters were bland and the dramas they went through were PG at the most. The whole thing had been turned into a polished middle class banality. Nothing to make you care.
The 1980 version was much more daring and extreme. The characters were distinctly chiseled and their interaction wild, as if all the animals in a zoo had been put in one cage. Of course, the stories told through them also had a real bite.
What went wrong in 2009? Well, apart from the director Kevin Tancharoen and script writer Allison Burnett being completely clueless or they just couldn't be bothered, the film chickened out from the most important ingredient: raw. It needed to be raw.
I mean, assemble hundreds of extremely expressive teenagers with spectacular dreams – that's not going to be Sunday school. They're not going to keep neat hairdos and speak softly about personal shortcomings.
Fame of the 1980's was directed by Alan Parker, who knew the above very well and didn't hesitate to indulge in it. He stripped the young actors bare and whipped them. Great drama ensued.
The plot is a difficult one to complete in a tantalizing way, because the protagonist – the one learning and growing from the experience, realizing something vastly important at the end of it – is the whole class of students. They both enter and exit the adventure simultaneously, changing from naive and insecure adolescents to scarred but confident adults. It's the classical coming of age thing, but as a collective experience. Mahayana, so to speak.
Without very fragile characters struck by very dramatic events in this process, the film is nothing but a collage of song and dance routines.
It's difficult but far from impossible to have a big group as the protagonist of a drama. It's been done, also by the grand master himself.
In Romeo and Juliet, the whole town of Verona is the protagonist. All its inhabitants, including both families of Montague and Capulet, need to realize the error of their way, regret and reform. The young lovers Romeo and Juliet are the heroes showing them the way and dying for it – because the couple can't solve the problem for the whole town.
At the end of the play, the prince is the one to tell the families what they needed blood and death to see:
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish'd.”
Fame doesn't contain a comparable bloodbath, so it would have needed to do as much as possible with what it had. Heightening the stake, tightening the garrote, increasing the noise. Alan Parker certainly did. That's why his version will live, while the 2009 one will soon be swept under the carpet and forgotten.
January 14, 2012
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I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both English and Swedish. I'm also an artist, a historian of ideas, and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.