Saturday, January 30, 2010

FAME: Blu-Ray (MGM 1980) Warner Home Video

Going all the way back to the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland 'hey kids, let's put on a show' formula, Alan Parker's Fame (1980) is a revamp of the tried and true time honored principles of the movie musical, this time brought to the screen with a rather peerless clarity for the anxieties facing a group of young hopefuls in training at New York's famed School for the Performing Arts.

Coming, as it did off the 1970s, a decade of gritty realism, but with the success of MGM's frothy tributes to their musical heyday of yesteryear That's Entertainment! parts I and II in mind, Christopher Gore's screenplay walks the tightrope in awkwardly balancing these stylistic polar opposites and, for the most part, makes a success of the exercise despite rather pedestrian production numbers.

The film's salvation is its roster of young talent, fronted by irrepressible Irene Cara as Coco - a driven songstress determined to pull out all the stops in order to have the world 'remember her name'. Other standouts in the cast include Gene Anthony Ray as rough around the edges hoodlum come dancer, Leroy and Lee Curreri as Bruno - a would-be musician/composer, if only he would realize that not every tune in the world should be performed entirely on a synthesizer. The rest of the young talent includes Barry Miller as insecure wannabe comic, Ralph and Maureen Teefy as Doris - a hopelessly awkward wallflower who may not make it to the top, but will undoubtedly 'find herself' in the process of going through her training.

Almost as compelling to the story, and certainly as integral to our overall appreciation of the film, are the cast that make up the School's faculty; with Albert Hague's stalwart music instructor, Mr. Shorovsky, Anne Meara's dominant English maven, Miss Sherwood and Debbie Allen's dance diva, Lydia marking their territory with crusty, compelling and passionate distinction amidst the amassed chaos of their feisty up and comers.

The film begins with the rigors of students auditioning for the few hallowed openings in this prestigious academic institution. Some strike an indelible first impression and begin their journey of self discovery, while other hopes are instantly dashed. From these preliminary sequences one can speculate where a young Simon Cowell might have manifested the idea for American Idol's reject reel. The auditions are a make or break trial by fire.

After establishing who has made the final cut, the reality of comprehensive school curriculum begins to set in. Students are expected to learn a little bit of everything; ballet, tap, music appreciation, acting and singing, in addition to their regular academic studies.

From this vantage, Gore's screenplay gradually begins to explore the more privately moral and social insecurities of its various players. We learn, for example, of fellow student, Montgomery's (Paul McCrane) crippling fear that his homosexuality will ruin his chances for fostering friendships at the school; explore Leroy's anxieties over not being able to read or write and what that means for his chances of succeeding, not just at the school but in life, and, we come to champion Coco's gutsy ambition for performance as she finds kinship in Bruno's opinionated passion for writing 'good music'.

In all, Fame is the story of uncertain youth at the cusp of entering adulthood on a full time basis, though perhaps yet without the full palette of social skills necessary to make that transition a complete success. The musical numbers are incidental intrusions at best - the very best of these being Coco's poignant rendition of 'Out Here On My Own'. Performing the number on a blackened stage with only Bruno as her audience, the song attains a meaningful mélange of heartfelt compassion and soulful depth of personalized struggle that predates the start of the film. It is as much a character building number for that character as it is a revealing glimpse into the hard knocks of real work that goes on behind the glamorous facade of stardom.

Despite the fact that the movie is billed as a 'musical', it very much comes to life in its dramatic portions rather than its musical bits and this is to Alan Parker's credit; for, in its drama, Fame is genuinely compelling entertainment.

The movie's title track spawned a hit Oscar-winning single for Cara and a lucrative television series that further explored the life and times of its cast - almost all of whom made the transition from film to the little screen. In the final analysis, Fame is deserving of our repeat viewing and respect and so undeserving of the abysmal big budget movie remake it received in 2009. This is the one that you want. Remember the name - Fame!

Warner Home Video's Blu-Ray easily bests its standard DVD release on every level. The anamorphic widescreen image is startling in both its color fidelity and razor sharp clarity that renders fine details with precision that home viewing audiences have never seen before on any format. Flesh tones have been superbly realized, neither too pink or too orange as was the case with the standard disc.

Again, fine detail is what sets the Blu-Ray apart. We can actually see texture in fabrics, wood paneling and hair. All this advanced detail gives the film's visual patina of grit and decay a very real edge that is most appealing. The soundtrack has been remastered in 5.1 Dolby Digital and is adequate for this presentation, though to more keen ears the sonic palette is unmistakably dated in its overall fidelity. Extras are direct imports off the standard disc and in standard def' including a Class Reunion featurette, another on the real School for Performing Arts and an audio commentary track. Recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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