Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Is It Ok If I Call You Mine?

The current remake of Fame is clearly not aimed at people like me. The original 1980 film was, but more on that in a mo'. I succumbed to curiosity yesterday, and popped out to see this new version; I admit I did it no favors by watching the original on DVD before setting out. The two are not comparable, but as the current effort is being touted as a remake, well, it's hard not to compare the two. This Fame.2 is clean-cut and sanitized, with none of the grit of the original. These young folks are all perfectly formed and ready for their close-up. And dull as toast. Realistic conflicts are nowhere to be found here; the only drama results from mild parental disapproval or an occasional swindler swooping in on one of our kids. That latter plotline, involving the only interesting young actor in the piece, Paul Ioacono, does not compare with the corresponding sequence in the original, in which Irene Cara is duped into removing her blouse for a sleazy pedophile masquerading as a filmmaker (she dissolves into tears, but does not refuse, just in case this guy might be legit). See where this is going? Our New Fame is cleaned up, and aimed squarely at the High School Musical crowd, where the biggest problem is whether to be a highly successful pianist or a highly successful singer. And speaking of the music, well, I acknowledge I'm not a good judge of such things. But here I go anyway. I can report that there are several sequences in the remake which have clear antecedents in the original. That huge musical number in the lunchroom remains, though in the remake, the song has a hip-hop feel, while the original was rooted in disco. I don't know which song is better, but I do know that the new version feels very, very staged, as opposed to the original, which had a chaotic, improvisational, more organic feel. There isn't much dancing on cars here; the current cast of goodie goods would never dream of holding up Manhattan traffic like our original gang did. Instead, there is a Halloween sequence right out of Moulin Rouge. This new film is full of the visual, but the deeply emotional is hard to find. If you've gotten this far, you can tell that I have a fondness for the original Fame. The movie was released in 1980, and was only a moderate hit, though it spawned a TV series (which spawned its own spinoff), as well as a stage show and the current remake. While that first film was not considered a big hit, it had a large impact on any stage actor of my generation. Those students in the original were quirky oddballs, exactly the kind of kid who is attracted to the performing arts. And the tone of the movie was darker and grittier, which made it seem more realistic. The Manhattan of 1980 was pretty grimy, as opposed to the Disneyfied territory of the remake. We had the rich dancer who had an abortion in order to gain admittance to a professional corps de ballet, the fatherless Puerto Rican who so idolized Freddie Prinz that he followed his descent into drug use, and the mousy virgin who blossomed into a woman of power. And of course, there was Montgomery, the unusual-looking geek who outed himself as an acting exercise. That character, for some obvious reasons, resonated very strongly with me. Played by a young Paul McCrane, when he had hair, his loneliness was particularly painful for me to watch back then. Take a peek at this clip, which features McCrane singing a song he wrote himself; though never outwardly addressed, it's a love song to his best friend Ralph:
But actually, any young actor could find him (or her)self in the original Fame. I remember I first saw the film with a group of actors from my workshop; we drove into Hollywood to see the thing on the big screen at the Hollywood Cinerama Dome. We brought our acting coach and mentor, Bobbi Holtsman, with us. All the students ate the movie up; we were moved, inspired, energized, and tipsy with ambition. But Bobbi did not get it; I was tempted back then to believe Fame was just not an adult's movie. But I must now be around the age Bobbi was when she first saw it, and today's viewing of the DVD still provided a heady feeling of "I'm going to live forever." As I said, I did not follow the subsequent versions of Fame, losing interest in the series after a couple of episodes (it ran four or five years on NBC and in syndication). I never saw the second series, nor the stage show which made the regional rounds several years ago. A couple of the actors from the original made the transition to the series, but the two actors who went on to larger careers did not. Paul McCrane and Barry Miller have continued acting, most of the others haven't. I've found this fun clip, in which McCrane, Miller, and Maureen Teefy illustrate a little of what I've been rambling about. They have the unusual look of the teens who were always attracted to the arts, a little off-beat, a little misfit, a whole lot of insecurity. They look like us, back then. The remake's cast is full of picture-perfect model types whom you don't believe for a second live in the real world. The only actor who looked like that in the original was Boyd Gaines, who also appears in this clip. He has become a multiple Tony winner, but his character did not; this promising golden boy heads to Hollywood and ends up waiting tables, another realistic depiction of the actor's life: