[Originally published in Movietone News 66-67, March 1981]
Whether Fame will tally up as a hit of this flabby movie summer is not clear at this moment, but the film is having some kind of success. In Seattle the picture opened soft and swiftly built, through word-of-mouth, to better-than-average b.o. Moreover, a portion of every audience can be relied upon to burst into applause after the concluding “I Sing the Body Electric” number, in which all (save one) of the featured students in one graduating class of the New York High School of the Performing Arts step forward, rise into frame, are cut to or panned to for their consummate, energy-into-organicity moment in the limelight. It should be what the whole film has been building toward: the culmination of its hither-and-yon camerawork and cutting, the certification of the purposiveness of its dynamics, the triumphant affirmation of the glory of the individual as part and parcel of a surging communal celebration. And excuse me but I’m going to fwow up because, beautiful as these notions may sound, they are not fulfilled by the conclusion, or legitimately anticipated by any element, of Fame. Such notions, such formal and emotional aspirations, are in fact betrayed, exploited, and cheapened by this movie, as lavishly insincere a film as one could hope, or dread, to see. Its notion of tradition is to wallow in stereotype; its sense of mythmaking, to freeze into rosy poster-art; its concept of montage, to reduce character to shtik and tic, and narrative to (in the passing remark of one critical colleague) 240 30-second commercial spots spliced together. The one sequence with any integral shape (however sappy and contrived its premise), the “spontaneous celebration” joined in by the entire studio body when a proud father pulls up in the street with the title theme (his son’s composition) blaring from his loudspeakers, does not climax but simply fades out. The screenplay is based solely on keeping eeny-meeny-miney-mo tabs on the various characters as they peregrinate through four years. These include a supposedly streetwise black chick who falls for a transparent shuck by the scungiest porn-filmmaker imaginable, and then weeps from the shame of it; also a hapless gay fellow whom we are to accept as an odd man out in a New York academy of the performing arts. One thoroughly nice and unsmarmy note: Jim Moody’s performance as a black drama teacher. The rest is swill.
© 1981 Richard T. Jameson
Direction: Alan Parker. Screenplay: Christopher Gore. Cinematography: Michael Seresin. Production design: Geoffrey Kirkland. Editing: Gerry Hambling. Music: Michael Gore. Production: David De Silva, Alan Marshall.
The players: Irene Cara, Lee Curreri, Maureen Teefy, Barry Miller, Boyd Gaines, Gene Anthony Ray, Eddie Barth, Laura Dean, Antonia Franceschi, Paul McCrane, Jim Moody, Albert Hague, Anne Meara, Tresa Hughes, Joanna Merlin.