Monday, March 25, 2013


Directed by Alan Parker, Fame is based on the real-life Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in Manhattan. When it debuted in 1980, Roger Ebert called it “a genuine treasure.” But in a world where Glee and the High School Musical franchise now have a lock on the teenager who dreams of becoming a star, how does Fame score?

  • An Asian kid playing the violin. Boy, they just break out the stereotypes right away, don’t they? = -10pts
  • The pushy Jewish mother who insists on sitting in on her daughter’s audition, pretty much ruining it. = +7pts (+20pts for realism, -13pts for embracing the cliché.) 
  • Making us all feel better about our shortcomings by sending in Sheila, who auditions not by acting out a scene from a play but by describing a scene from a movie. = +9pts
  • All the dance teachers are getting turned on by a 14 year old’s sexy dancing. Gross. = -11pts
  • Kids scared of hookers and the subway. Did they all just move to New York City? = -5pts
  • Of course it’s the English teacher who has to be the bitchy one. = -8pts
  • Teachers telling their students they’ll probably never amount to anything even if they work hard. = +15pts (For realism) 
  • Wait a minute. Is that Sheila? The girl who described a scene from The Towering Inferno for her audition? SHE GOT IN? = -27pts
  • Impromptu song and dance in the cafeteria. Everyone just happens to be wearing costumes and dance shoes and have their instruments with them. And everyone just happens to know the song, which happens to be about the cafeteria’s lunch lady. This is what we want to believe happens in a performing arts high school. = +32 pts
  • Boldly including a song with the lyrics, “if it’s yellow, then it’s Jell-O; if it’s blue, it could be stew…ooh ooh.” = +5pts
  • “Tits book bands” may be true, but Coco, you’re a freshman. = -3pts
  • Doris does an incredibly fake-sounding monologue about how she’s not interesting enough to be an actress. We don’t know about interesting, but she’s sure nailed the voice of a first-year drama student delivering a monologue. = +6pts
  • The English teacher strikes again! . You’d think she’d at least try to help Leroy before announcing to the entire class that he can’t read. This clearly ain’t Dangerous Minds, folks. = -7pts 
  • Inventive product placement as Leroy tests his own reading knowledge by sounding out “Welcome to the wonderful world of Maytag washing machines.” = +12pts
  • A beautiful ballet number reminds us that some of the kids actually do have a chance of success. = +15pts
  • Impromptu street dance to Irene Cara’s “Fame,” which won the Academy Award that year for best song. It was this scene that made the movie iconic and helped give wannabe performers the (sometimes misguided, but absolutely necessary) idea that your dreams are within your reach, if you want it badly enough. = +50pts
  • Scene where a gay guy comes out to his class ends, and the next image we see is of him putting on lipstick.  = -15pts
  • Leroy has a sweatshirt with his own name on it. You know, in case he forgets how to spell it. = +2pts (It’s the little things.)
  • A teacher kicks a student out of the dance program, telling her, “You don’t have it.” = +10pts (For honesty, which you don’t often get in high school.)
  • Overdramatic suicide scare followed by “If I can’t dance, I’ll change to the drama department.” = -8pts (-18pts for implying actors have it easier than dancers, +10 for being right.)
  • Flaunting a heterosexual kiss in front of a vulnerable gay guy. Not cool, man. = -7pts
  • Throwing the word “junkie” into a Spanish monologue so the English-speaking audience will have some idea of what just happened, rather than including English subtitles. = -4pts
  • Doris Finsecker wants to change her name to Dominique Dupont. Really? Her mother is right. That does sound like a hooker name. = -9pts
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show scene, complete with plus-sized woman dressed as Magenta. = +30 pts (For perfectly capturing the lives of many doomed-to-fail actors for years to come.)
  • “If I don’t have a personality of my own, so what? I’m an actress. I can put on as many personalities as I want.” You’re  going to be a great secretary, Doris. = -11pts
  • The most talented student from a few years before is now a waiter at a diner. Kudos to screenwriter Christopher Gore for yet another realistic look at the life of a would-be professional actor. = +15pts
  • The nurse who has just listened to a teenage girl’s tearful monologue kindly calls her “honey” while asking what credit card she’ll be using to pay for her abortion. = -12pts
  • OK, I realize with all her talk of being a professional, Coco’s gonna have to get her comeuppance at some point. But she lives in New York City, reads the trade papers, and most of the time, seems to know what she’s talking about. You’d think she’d be more savvy than to believe that a skeezy-looking guy with a New York accent who calls himself “Francois Lafete” is legit. = -27pts
  • Graduation already? So, now that all the students are properly broken and realize they’re never going to achieve their dreams, they’re being released into the world? Kind of unsatisfying. I hope that diner is hiring more waiters. = -12pts 

Total score: +32pts
Available: Fame is not available on Netflix streaming, but my parents have my VHS copy if you want to pop by their house.

The success of the film led to a television series starring four of the film’s actors—Lee Curreri (Bruno), Gene Anthony Ray (Leroy), Albert Hague (Mr. Shorofsky), and Debbie Allen (Lydia). Perhaps appropriately, none of the student actors went on to longtime stardom, but several did (and do) make a living in their chosen fields. Ray was a dancer and choreographer for many years before his death in 2003; Paul McCrane (Montgomery) has had roles on 24, ER, and Harry’s Law; Irene Cara (Coco) performs regularly with her band, Hot Caramel; and Curreri pretty much lives his character’s life, working as a composer and music producer. He also follows me on Twitter, so +5pts for me.

Winning two Academy Awards for its music, Fame holds a solid spot in film history as an honest story of life in the arts—so solid, in fact, that LaGuardia Arts is still known as “the Fame school.” Remember my name, indeed.

Score Technician: Erika Grotto

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