Wednesday 26th July 2017,
Televisual

Fame (1980), Fame (2009), and Fame!

The poster for the new Fame, a blatant rip off of Apple's iPod ads

The poster for the new Fame (2009), a shameless rip off of Apple's iPod ads

UPDATE (9/26/10): One year, I decided to check in on Fame‘s B.O., and it looks like it made a killing overseas and pulled in $77 million worldwide, which means it probably broke even and perhaps made a profit.

UPDATE (2/12): Click here for a post with comments from Barry Miller, who played Ralph Darcy in the original film. He very much dislikes the remake!

UPDATE (9/27): Opening weekend box office numbers are soft at around $10 million (estimated). The LATimes also reports Fame‘s CinemaScore numbers are low  (B-) signaling it won’t get good word of mouth. BoxOfficeMojo has the production budget at $18 million, so it seems possible it’ll break even, but who knows how much its extensive marketing campaign cost. Over at Ronebreak, I speculate the film’s PG-rating had something to do with its poor performance.

UPDATE (9/25): Reviews are in. They’re mediocre, which is to be expected.

UPDATE (9/24): Weird Fame controversy. Apparently the actor playing Montgomery — Fame (1980)’s gay character — thinks his character isn’t gay. AfterElton called up director Tancharoen (who’s 25!) and asked, and Tancharoen said he’s gay, but that there’s nothing in the film to suggest that (no love interest, or sexual quip). He just is. Is Fame (2009) a regression from the original?

UPDATE (9/21): In a rather smart marketing move, Fame is now releasing commercials featuring individual characters (I saw mine on Gossip Girl, the perfect show to broadcast them). As I show below, this further emphasizes the role of “personality” in fame culture today. It also sets up the movie as more character- than plot-driven (same as the original).

UPDATE (9/13): The song “Fame” has indeed been remixed and remade for the Milennials. The new song shines a spotlight on two of the film’s leads, a Naturi Naughton (singer) and Collins Pennie (rapper).

UPDATE (8/10): The MGM publicity machine has started churning and the studio has released exclusive photos to AOL Black Voices.

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ORIGINAL POST: I’d rather not divulge the secrets of my stats, but I’m shocked at the random popularity of one of my posts! The post, where I review a few unrelated movies I saw in one week last year, has been viewed about four times as often as the next popular post on this blog, the one about 30 Rock. As much as I’d like to think people want to read my opinion on Jacques Tati’s Play Time and Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, I know the real reason: Fame.

Not in recent memory has a movie remake seemed so canny and appropriate as the remake of Fame, set for release in theaters Friday September 25th. The original Fame (1980; dir. Alan Parker; written: Christopher Gore) is a vibrant, dark depiction of the post-Boomer generation, living amidst the remnants of de-industrialization and the heights of American media power. It’s about 1970s New York — drugs and pornography — dirty and glamorous. The students try to “make it” but are consistently faced with the realities of life and the industry, and many fall under the weight of their own pressure. It’s a gritty movie, but a successful one. Since then it has become a long-lasting television show and musical. The original actors, sadly, have not been so lucky: none have really become famous.

The older Fame is a much darker movie compared to most teen flicks today.

The older Fame (1980) is a much darker movie compared to most teen flicks today.

FAME 2.0

The new Fame (2009, dir. Kevin Tancharoen) comes out nearly thirty years later and skips Gen X to grapple with the children of the post-Boomer generation: the Milennials! In true Milennial fashion, the remake appears to be glitzy and optimistic, like other young-at-heart remakes released this year and like the Apple ads is blatantly rips off for its poster. Fame (2009) seems it will bypass most of the rough stuff and focus on the achieving success part. Unlike the previous Fame, in which really no one is successful in the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if in the remake at least one character gets a record deal/movie deal/dance contract. How do I know? Consider the writers of the new Fame are best known for frothy — and delicious — romantic comedies like Devil Wears Prada, Laws of Attraction and 27 Dresses (Aline Brosh McKenna) and Feast of Love (Allison Burnett). Dance movies today moreover — from Save the Last Dance (and 2), Center Stage to Step Up (and 2) and Stomp the Yard — are more about overcoming minor obstacles like self-confidence and hang-ups over class/socioeconomic status than about drugs and sexual abuse. So Fame 2009  I expect will be a fun movie, not a serious one, and already boasts some great comic actors: Kelsey Grammar, Bebe Neuwirth and Megan Mullally chief among them.

INFLUENCE OF REALITY TELEVISION

It’s no surprise the director of the new Fame made his name filming a short-lived reality show about dancers for MTV, of all networks, mother of the reality show and perennial home to fame-seekers. Why does the choice of director make sense? While the stars of reality television are the most desiring of fame, more to the point young people today experience and understand fame through reality television. MTV knew this when it inaugurated its new-ish reality show, Taking the Stage, about a performing arts high school (hello, Fame-much?). Months ago, it made perfect sense when Fame 2009 came out with a reality-TV-like featurette about the cast of the new film. Introducing the film as if it was a TV show, it makes it seem like you aren’t so much going to the movies as spending time on your couch watching a few interesting characters for just a few hours. It’s smart to take this approach to filmmaking and marketing. It’s cheap, as I like to see, and very much of-the-moment. The specter of reality television, from American Idol to The Apprentice, hovers over the new Fame, in which talent, one-upmanship and most of all personality become the key ingredients for fame and notoriety.

“Personality” is a key ingredient. Both traditional celebrities and reality TV stars build their mass appeal on their personal characteristics. Young people today understand that revealing oneself, in a measured and classy way, is key to achieving fame. This is what The Hills and The City is all about: “be you” and you will be famous.

“PERSONALITY” AND FAME: MILENNIALS, NARCISSISM and THE AMERICAN DREAM

How else can you understand YouTube and MySpace? I heard it all the time when I interviewed performers on YouTube: people talk about “expressing their personality” as the truest way to attain and retain viewers. Far from being emblematic of a kind of generational narcissism, as sociologist Jean Twenge has argued consistently and convincingly, I think it’s much more complex than that.

The new Fame's website asks users to create profiles, a smart marketing ploy in more ways than one.

The new Fame's website asks users to create profiles, a smart marketing ploy in more ways than one.

Today parents do tell their children too often that they are special and they can be whatever they want to be — this is particularly true of middle class families. This encourages kids to seek their dreams even at the expense of talent and practicality (hence the American Idol auditions). This is narcissism, of course. But it’s simply an exaggerated form of what all Americans believe: they will achieve the American dream, a house on the hill and all that. We believe in ourselves because, for many people, the government gives us little support. Sure there are families and churches, but none of that is financial. This theory of neoliberalism has been well articulated by scholars like Anthony Giddens so I’m not going to try to do better.

So I agree with social networking scholar danah boyd on fame and narcissism as it relates to MySpace. MySpace, the obsession with reality television, self-branding and all the ways in which young people focus on self-production and self-improvement are symptomatic and larger American issues, in which the realities of class and inequality are obscured by the success of a few, special — and especially personable — individuals.

You can see what I mean when I say Fame 2009 is particularly canny. It manages to incorporate the aesthetics of reality television, celebrity and Internet culture into a bright, optimistic and particularly Milennialistic package. Don’t believe me? Consider that the film’s website — yes, it’s called Generation Fame — asked young people to submit social networking profiles for a chance to “join the wall of fame” and also win cool prizes. (Yes, you can bet your house it’s soliciting information for marketing). And it comes out in theaters in September, at the beginning of the school year when hopes are high and everyone truly believes they will make it.

Pat yourself on the back, Hollywood, this one looks very well-played!

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FAME (1980)

CAST (via IMDB.com)


Eddie Barth Angelo
Irene Cara Coco
Lee Curreri Bruno
Laura Dean Lisa
Antonia Franceschi Hilary
Boyd Gaines Michael
Albert Hague Shorofsky
Tresa Hughes Mrs. Finsecker
Steve Inwood François Lafete
Paul McCrane Montgomery
Anne Meara Mrs. Sherwood
Joanna Merlin Miss Berg
Barry Miller Ralph
Jim Moody Farrell
Gene Anthony Ray Leroy
Maureen Teefy Doris
Debbie Allen Lydia

__________________________________________________

FAME (2009)

CAST (via IMDB.com):

Naturi Naughton Denise
Anna Maria Perez de Tagle Joy
Kelsey Grammer Joel Cranston
Kay Panabaker Jenny
Megan Mullally Fran Rowan
Bebe Neuwirth Lynn Kraft
Charles S. Dutton Alvin Dowd
Kherington Payne Alice
Debbie Allen Principal Simms
Walter Perez Victor Taveras
Paul McGill Kevin
Paul Iacono Neil Baczynsky
Asher Book Marco
Collins Pennie Malik

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

20 Comments

  1. derek June 3, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Interesting indeed! and appropriate. I wonder what a Gen X Fame would have been like…

    I must say though, for it really to be worth it me, I think the content of the movie itself should address the new Fame 2.0 a la Myspace/reality TV, the Hills etc. so aptly described here.

    Is Debbie Allen invovled in the new production? major slight if she isn’t. Major!

  2. Aymar Jean Christian June 3, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Allen plays the principal. Don’t you worry!

  3. Johnny Lagoon August 19, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Obamasized, Twitterized, and Homogenized into it’s safe PG-13 demographic, there will be no lines of dialogue accusing God of being an idiot or Santa Claus of being a thief, no tears of rage about the horrors perpetrated on a child because of the consuming evils of poverty and malevolent parental jealousy, no crucifix flung iObamasized, Twitterized, and Homogenized into it’s safe PG-13 demographic, there will be no lines of dialogue accusing God of being an idiot or Santa Claus of being a thief, no tears of rage about the horrors perpetrated on a child because of the consuming evils of poverty and malevolent parental jealousy, no crucifix flung in the face of a priest, no angry monologue about trying to come to terms with the violent suicide of a Hollywood star, no snuffing out of potential through the self-destruction that lurks at the heart of the American Dream. In Orwell’s “1984”, Winston Smith places pieces of paper over passages in the history books that once described anything critical towards the totalitarian society in which he now exists, and the motivations behind the “remake” phenomena are no different.
    n the face of a priest, no angry monologue about trying to come to terms with the violent suicide of a Hollywood star, no snuffing out of potential through the self-destruction that lurks at the heart of the American Dream. In Orwell’s “1984”, Winston Smith places pieces of paper over passages in the history books that once described anything critical towards the totalitarian society in which he now exists, and the motivations behind the “remake” phenomena are no different.

  4. Johnny Lagoon August 19, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    Obamasized, Twitterized, and Homogenized into it’s safe PG-13 demographic,

    there will be no lines of dialogue accusing God of being an idiot or Santa Claus

    of being a thief, no tears of rage about the horrors perpetrated on a child

    because of the consuming evils of poverty and malevolent parental jealousy,

    no crucifix flung in the face of a priest, no angry monologue about trying to

    come to terms with the violent suicide of a Hollywood star, no snuffing out of

    potential through the self-destruction that lurks at the heart of the American

    Dream. In Orwell’s “1984”, Winston Smith places pieces of paper over

    passages in the history books that once described anything critical towards the

    totalitarian society in which he now exists, and the motivations behind the

    “remake” phenomena are no different.

  5. Johnny Lagoon August 20, 2009 at 4:22 am

    Obamasized, Twitterized, and Homogenized into it’s safe PG-13 demographic, there will be no lines of dialogue accusing God of being an idiot or Santa Claus of being a thief, no tears of rage about the horrors perpetrated on a child because of the consuming evils of poverty and malevolent parental jealousy, no crucifix flung in the face of a priest, no angry monologue about trying to come to terms with the violent suicide of a Hollywood star, no snuffing out of potential through the self-destruction that lurks at the heart of the American Dream. In Orwell’s “1984”, Winston Smith places pieces of paper over passages in the history books that once described anything critical towards the totalitarian society in which he now exists, and the motivations behind the “remake” phenomena are no different.

  6. Johnny Lagoon August 23, 2009 at 8:46 am

    oh yes…no allusions to a completely corrupt and corrupting consumerist society…you know, “the witch doctors and plastic surgeons and underarm deodorant spray people who gotta stay in business….cause you know…everybody’s gotta stay in business.”

  7. Aymar Jean Christian August 23, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    I think you’ve obviously raised some interesting points, thanks!

  8. electroniccigarettes September 18, 2009 at 2:51 am

    Great Post.

    I want to thank you for the information.

  9. Johnny Lagoon September 21, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    “For thirty strangely obsessive years, Hollywood began producing imitative versions of the 1980 Alan Parker original, whose subsequent puffed-up aspirational agendas were an attempt to rebuke every single element of a commercially successful product that in the most direct and compellingly dramatic way spoke to it’s audience about the false spectacle and lethally toxic consequences of the very same Hollywood system that had made it….a voluptuous anomoly only afforded to that generation of young people who existed in that brief moment of time before the rise of Reagan and the age of the computer”

  10. Johnny Lagoon November 15, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    Dear Mr. Christian,

    MGM got exactly what they deserved. Let it stand as a testament to the fact that unlike the admonishment of the drama teacher in the remake who boldly proclaimed that there is no room for anger in the theatre, that it was precisely that anger that made the 1980 film a classic and the censorial removal of it within the 2009 version that doomed it to failure.

    Barry Miller

    AKA RALPH GARCY

  11. Johnny Lagoon November 15, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    By the way, would anybody like to buy some Sephora “Fame” lip gloss in “Starbright Pink” or “Superstar Red”. or some sparkly LG Washers and Dryers cheap?

    Really, really, really, really cheap?

  12. Aymar Jean Christian November 16, 2009 at 5:05 am

    If this is the real Barry Miller, then thank you for your informed insight! I think what the Fame remake tells us is that the original was one of a kind and very much a product of its time and place.

  13. Johnny Lagoon November 16, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Dear Mr. Christian,

    I am who I say I am. I responded to your website because I liked your take…drugs and pornography, glamour and failure and dark unshiny 1970’s things, indeed.

    You must understand this: the remake was no mere attempt at homage, or a desperate attempt by a failing studio to reap profits off it’s back catalogue. It was part of a much bigger and much more sinister agenda of revisionist propaganda that had been going on with the film specifically through much of the Reagan/Bush Years and continues to flourish all across the board these days with the majority of mainstream Hollywood output..:hence the non-stop proliferation of remakes, do-overs, and “inspired-bys”. It is a fact, probably not known by many, that a controversial and much-derided organization backed by Christian fundamentalists with connections in the film industry produced and finallcially backed a major release in 2004 called “Raise Your Voice” which was unquestionably an attempt to recast a “Fame”-like scenario in the strictest pro-religious, pro-aspirational , and pro-“family values” terms.

    Fame 09 was just the more covert mulit-ethnic version if it.

    As to my career…a Tony Award, leading roles with Coppola and Scorsese, the starring role in 1977’s Saturday Night Fever…this was hardly the stuff of anonymity.

    I just did it in a world without YouTube and MySpace….where Warhols “fifteen minutes of fame” was considered an insult and not a blueprint.

    I became an actor in a galaxy long ago and far away…where to be an artist, and not a celebrity, was the greatest of dreams.

  14. Johnny Lagoon November 16, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    One more thing….Parker wanted the film. through my “Ralph Garcy” character, to relfect upon the then-recent tragic suicide of superstar comedian and teen idol Freddie Prinze that had shocked Hollywood and the nation…it was the main motif and “raison d’ etre” of the whole film’s subtext….”what profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?”

    Follow this main character, audience, with his starry-eyed and idealistic aspirations and his tragic idol by his side as his guiding light…why, dear audience, is he suddenly lost and going down the same path?

    What does this say about one’s self-worth versus the worth of public favor?

    What does it say about the values of our culture?

    What does it say ABOUT YOU?

  15. WP Themes March 14, 2010 at 3:31 pm

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