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.
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 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.
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!
CAST (via IMDB.com)
|Tresa Hughes||…||Mrs. Finsecker|
|Steve Inwood||…||François Lafete|
|Anne Meara||…||Mrs. Sherwood|
|Joanna Merlin||…||Miss Berg|
|Gene Anthony Ray||…||Leroy|
CAST (via IMDB.com):
|Anna Maria Perez de Tagle||…||Joy|
|Kelsey Grammer||…||Joel Cranston|
|Megan Mullally||…||Fran Rowan|
|Bebe Neuwirth||…||Lynn Kraft|
|Charles S. Dutton||…||Alvin Dowd|
|Debbie Allen||…||Principal Simms|
|Walter Perez||…||Victor Taveras|
|Paul Iacono||…||Neil Baczynsky|