Some films are all hype because of the legacy that’s been built around them. For better or worse, which you’ll no doubt figure out after you watch the film, the reason you watch a given film may not convince you it was worth it. What once was an effective film, in whatever way that was, may be nothing more than a reminder of a time from long ago.
The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film “Fame” may be viewed as a classic film for many reasons, but doesn’t seem to be all that I thought it would be. I’ve been trying to watch this film for some time, but have failed at that up until now. When I saw this film would be part of this year’s “31 Days of Oscar” on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), I got incredibly excited! At long last I was going to be able to see this musical. Well, I’d certainly do my best as sometimes life gets in the way. And now having seen it, I feel like the film let me down, like it was some sort of deliberate move against me and only me. While this is definitely a ridiculous notion, it doesn’t stop me from being supremely disappointed. I expected much more than I got, which could also say a lot about me as a viewer.
A musical is only as good as its songs. That might not actually be a thing, but it is for me, and maybe that explains a lot about why I responded to this film the way I did. The musical numbers just were. I can’t actually say any of them were bad, but I also can’t say they were anything special. The majority certainly weren’t all that memorable. They just served what little purpose they were supposed to. It’s also why I’m not convinced that this film should be considered a musical. It was considerably more dramatic than I thought it would be. So much drama, that this film probably should’ve just stuck with that angle and fleshed out the characters more to be a different type of film altogether.
There were only two musical numbers that I actually really liked, which, incidentally, were the two that were nominated for Academy Awards, with one ultimately winning. The title song, “Fame” and “Out Here on My Own” are the ones I liked the most. They were well written and arranged well so that when they’re ultimately performed, they hit in just the right way. With “Fame”, however, I can’t ignore that some of my love of the song comes from having heard it enough times over the years. It’s one of the reasons this film has the legacy it does. It’s also possible that that’s why I don’t care for the other songs. They just don’t affect me all that much or stand out in any memorable way. They kind of interest me and draw my attention towards the screen, but after they’re done, I just move on. By the time the film ended, I barely remembered them. Actually, I can’t even remember them right now.
It’s sad too, that even with “Fame”, I wasn’t all that impressed. I was excited to hear the song and see how it factored into the film, but after seeing the sequence it’s featured in, I was unimpressed. It was just some random dance scene. The song starts playing really loudly and people and students just start dancing all over. I’ll give you that it was kind of cool in its execution and thought, but it lacked excitement. Not from the characters, mind you, but from me. I just stared on as the scene and classic song went along. I guess I just expect more from musicals and semi-big numbers. Oh! And I also sang along with the song, at least I got that from the sequence.
The biggest problem I have with this film, which is where my disappointment comes into play, is with the characters. I couldn’t ever get myself to fully care about any of them. For the longest time too, with the exception Irene Cara, I couldn’t even identify who they were. As an audience member, you’re not exactly following a lot of people, but somehow they never seemed to come across as people worth paying any amount of attention to. Somehow I didn’t find their dramatic lives, their ups and downs, interesting. Granted, it wasn’t because the performances were bad. They weren’t. They still hold up pretty well, which is more than the majority of the other elements that bring this film to life. However, by film’s end, I was completely bored with them and just wanted everything to be over. That’s how much I didn’t care. It wasn’t for lack of trying by the writer, but somehow I wasn’t moved. Perhaps it’s the fact that the focus was on five characters. You’re constantly bouncing back and forth, sometimes with overlapping storylines, but largely it was like I was getting glimpses. Brief glimpses of these people’s lives, when what I really wanted, were more complete pictures of characters with complicated lives.
Complicated lives are fine, but when they overshadow everything like they seem to do in this film, it changes everything. I wasn’t kidding about the level of drama this film takes on. It’s very dramatic. The issues these kids go through are probably familiar to a lot of people. Issues that are tackled in some way or the other include abortion, exploitation, suicide (although not really), poverty and homosexuality. Some lighter issues include competition and jealousy. Man that’s a lot. It’s not all crammed into one place or one character, but that doesn’t keep the general tone from being quite dark. For me, that’s part of the problem I had with this film, which is also slightly baffling as none of this seemed out of place. It was organic and was certainly the avenue you needed into these characters. Maybe it’s just the fact that I expected a drastically different film. I wasn’t thinking this would be more a dramatic film than a musical. I guess I’m used to most musicals having some drama, strong performances and memorable characters, but still manage to be lively and lighter in overall tone. It’s this bit that makes me wonder who’s at fault with this film. I could very well just be a bad filmgoer.
Originally released: May 16, 1980
Director: Alan Parker
Writer: Christopher Gore
Starring: Eddie Barth, Irene Cara, Lee Curreri, Laura Dean, Antonia Francheschi, Boyd Gaines, Albert Hague, Teresa Hughes, Steve Inwood, Paul McCrane, Anne Meara, Joanna Merlin, Barry Miller, Jim Moody, Gene Anthony Ray and Maureen Teefy