Alan Parker's 1980 musical Fame was a sort of fictional precursor to the desperate, celebrity-at-any-cost histrionics of "American Idol" a gritty-looking artistic Thunderdome that offered up the uncomfortable, but absorbing, spectacle of up-and-coming young actors, dancers, and musicians playing up-and-coming young actors, dancers, and musicians attending the fabled New York City High School for the Performing Arts. The prospective stars include the prodigious synthesizer geek Bruno Martelli (Lee Curreri), the neurotic son of a modestly successful theater actress, Montgomery MacNeil (Paul McCrane), mercurial street tough-turned-ballet-dancer Leroy Johnson (Gene Anthony Ray), mousy actress Doris Finsecker (Maureen Teefy), the would-be Puerto Rican second coming of Freddie Prinze, Raul Garcia (Barry Miller), and, of course, burgeoning pop star Coco Hernandez (Irene Cara). Split up into five sections, beginning with their auditions, and continuing through each of their four years in attendance at the school, the kids suffer the expected ego deflations, creative dry spells, and self-doubts that will hound them throughout their career, whether they end up succeeding or waiting tables. Moodily photographed by cinematographer Michael Seresin in the evocative, run-down milieu of the actual school (located just off Broadway on 46th Street in Manhattan), Parker strives for an emotional authenticity that is at odds with the hackneyed nature of a script rife with weightless characters encountering the stock complications of a thousand "Let's Put on a Show" pictures. Placing them amid the depressing decay of pre-revitalization New York City only trivializes the genuinely desperate and destitute captured by Parker's camera as atmosphere. Even worse, the musical numbers are nowhere near as rousing as they seemed two decades ago; oftentimes, as is the case in the performance of the titular song, they simply come out of nowhere with no set-up, no distinct choreography, and simply no real reason for being. Now that the Fame brand name has spawned a musical, a midnight movie cult following and, finally, its own reality series, it's difficult to divorce the film from its stature as a pop cultural phenomenon and take it seriously. But, through Parker's unflinching eye, the picture still accrues an unsettling power down the stretch, particularly in the "Senior Year" portion as Raul flames out in a drug-induced haze and Coco unwittingly gets drawn into the web of a predatory lowlife pornographer. Ultimately, all of the kids' threads are left dangling as the picture wraps up with its best number, "I Sing the Body Electric." The lyric "And in time we will all be stars" is an overoptimistic, but undeniably poignant, reaffirmation of the grandiose aspirations that landed them at this estimable institution. Will they be stars? By the end of the film, only the nastily narcissistic Raul, and maybe the stubborn technophile Bruno, seem at all destined for even a brief suckle at the teat of celebrity. In real life, Irene Cara enjoyed a brief run as a pop diva in the early '80s but was consigned to Grade-Z women-in-prison exploitation flicks by the decade's end. Meanwhile, Maureen Teefy, coming off a brief role in Spielberg's 1941, went on to supporting roles in franchise killers Grease 2 and Supergirl. Probably the most successful of the bunch was Paul McCrane, who, after cutting a memorably sadistic figure as one of the villains in the original Robocop, negotiated a stint on the doomed Cop Rock to land a recurring role on ER. Now, that's a survivor! Warner presents Fame in an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with fantastic Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a "Class Reunion" commentary with "branching video" (i.e., you can watch the participants yack and see how they look today) featuring Parker, Curreri, Ray, Teefy, and Lauren Dean. There's also a vintage "making-of" featurette, "On Location with Fame", a "Fame Field Trip" that visits the new location of the school, behind-the-scenes notes, and a trailer. Snap-case.
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