Grandstanding and bombastic line delivery seem almost too inextricably tied to the musical to be a thing that I find issue with. However, this is an attachment that almost exclusively works in the context of Classical Hollywood musicals and becomes less necessary the farther into contemporary film one gets. More so, when a film clearly makes it a point to embrace a low-budget, intimate look at a inner-city life one ravished with poverty and immobility the grandstanding can become somewhat more troublesome. Fame, the cult musical from Alan Parker does suffer considerably from this very over-the-top nature, but in some ways it is rather acceptable considering that it intends to look at a space where people are constantly performing for the sake of self-identity as well as for their future livelihood. Fame works in some was primarily because it takes no shame in going big with its ideas, while juxtaposing them against the stripped away veneer of a rundown, but, undoubtedly, prestigious fine arts school. Indeed, while it does possess enough musical numbers to warrant it being placed within the genre, it far more something in line with the coming of age tale, wherein, a group of awkward kids come to learn about sex, lies and the trouble of access in a harsh world. This sort of scathing look at growing up would appear ill-conceived and somewhat troublesome, but it manages to approach the issues with some degree of earnestness, only going too far on a few occasions, allowing for characters to exist in nearly possible moments only to allow their character to take on narrative layering. Indeed, while the film does clock in at over two hours, it still feels as though it is missing some elements, almost as though characters backstories were cut out in favor of focusing on two singular experiences making certain portions come off as slightly exploitative. While not completely unwatchable and certainly better than some of the musicals I have encountered this month, Fame, nonetheless, does become underwhelming during its closing sequence one that is assumed to carry a heavy emotional investment, but like its cutting to credits merely stops not attaining anything deserved of next level film admiration.
Fame focuses rather sporadically, albeit in a linear fashion, on the experiences of a group of students attending the New York High School for the Performing Arts, first beginning with auditions, where the various instructors of dance, theater and music are subjected to both profoundly moving and outright awful performances, while also establishing the importance of various characters, whether it be the accidental dancer Leroy (Gene Anthony Ray) or synth rock prodigy Bruno (Lee Curreri) and his expansive keyboard set up. The students all begin by claiming their desires to be in the unique setting, many noting their particular financial limitations. As the narrative moves into Freshman year the narrative focuses in on the experiences of two students in particular, the wide-eyed and constantly evolving Doris (Maureen Teefy) and South Bronx native turned aspiring stand-up comedian Ralph (Barry Miller). While they do possess a mutual friend in Montgomery (Paul McCrane) his own struggles with embracing his homosexual identity lead to him stepping away from the narrative. As the students move through Sophomore and Junior years, Leroy is confronted with a classroom setting where his lower class, black identity becomes a thing of confusion and fear for his English teacher, who finds it necessary to constantly bemoan his indifference in class, even calling him out for his inability to read at one point in time. Bruno comes under fire by his orchestra teacher Mr. Shorofsky (Albert Hague) for a disagreement on the nature of Mozart in a contemporary setting and Doris and Ralph, after an initial romantic fling, have a falling out when Ralph's drinking and unhealthy bar life become a thing of trouble. Other members of the school both current and former come to discover the ways in which the industry, particularly, acting on screen proves limiting and threatening, particularly for one young girl named Coco (Irene Cara) whose foolish belief that she could star in European art house films is quickly shattered when she attends a screen test. However, upon graduation it appears as though all has come to fruition even in insane contexts, allowing the entirety of the class to somberly and sentimentally reflect on their past and look forward into the future.
The sort of brevity and briefness of most encounters in the film is decidedly frustrating. I respect the film for attempting to navigate a rater wide scope of identities within the space of the performing arts, but it also does so with such faint brush strokes as to give off an heir of essentialism, wherein Leroy and his own struggles to move out of severe poverty speak to all identities within the urban African-American community, just as Montgomery comes to reflect the entirety of gay culture in what is essentially a monologue about said identity. Fame seeks in what appears to be earnestness to tackle these issues, without realizing that a mere mention is often far more fatal than an actual singular focus. Sure it is great that the film wants to paint such a complete picture, but it also means a complete loss in depth to the film, which helps to explain my earlier complaint that by the closing of the film the resolution carries little to no emotional investment because there is nothing within which for the viewer to ground their experience. Sure Montgomery is relatable, but his portion of the film accounts for maybe two percent of the narrative and aside from the overplayed moment of Leroy struggling to read next to a fire barrel under a bridge nothing affords the viewer a reason to relate to him, instead only being able to pull from his confrontational attitude in other moments throughout the film. Interstingly, the film almost seems to lean on the power of the teachers in the film, whether it be Leeroy's stern English teacher, who appears to receive more narrative leeway than the homeless Leroy, or the manner with which the stuffy Mr. Shorofsky still proves to be "correct" about the nature of classical music, despite completely rejecting the possibility that Bruno's music could attain any success, an assumption that is negated by the success of Coco and Bruno when performing. If any figure actually achieves respect that is not a student it comes in the way of Bruno's father Angelo (Eddie Barth) who is wholly supportive of his son's musical aspirations both emotionally and financially, although this is even tenuous as he constantly calls attention to his sacrifice. It is a film that wants so desperately to show the layers and varieties of struggling that it is at once spread too far and too thin to prove evocative.
Key Scene: The construction of the scene when Ralph reflects on his violent father in the neon-light lit apartment is poetic and while the acting and narrative might be a bit lacking, it is washed over with the soft red in such a way to allow it to be decidedly moving.
This is easily a rental option, although it might be more worth your time to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show which is actually shown at considerable length during one sequence.