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  Fame Learning To Fly
Year: 1980
Director: Alan Parker
Stars: Eddie Barth, Irene Cara, Lee Curreri, Laura Dean, Antonia Franceschi, Boyd Gaines, Albert Hague, Tresa Hughes, Steve Inwood, Paul McCrane, Anne Meara, Joanna Merlin, Barry Miller, Jim Moody, Gene Anthony Ray, Maureen Teefy, Debbie Allen, Richard Belzer
Genre: Drama, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Here we follow a group of students from the New York School of Performing Arts from auditions to graduation four years later. Not all of those who audition are admitted, and with some you wonder why they bothered turning up at all, as the categories of dance, drama or music don't seem to suit any of them, but there are plenty who do get through those early stages. They include mother-dominated Doris (Maureen Teefy), who in spite of her nerves manages to show promise, streetwise Leroy (Gene Anthony Ray) who arrives as a dance partner and ends up with a place, Bruno (Lee Curreri) a keyboard whizz who thinks that synthesisers are the future, and many more...

When the phenomenon of Fame is mentioned these days, most people will recall the television series, but before the remake and before the hugely popular small screen version, there was a fair sized hit in the original to contend with. With an ensemble cast pretty much all of whom did not go on to worldwide celebrity, the focus of the story flits around from one character to the next, they cross paths, and end up for the grand finale where they manage to show us all their hard work ain't been in vain for nuthin'. Not one of them really stands out amidst all this noise of performance, but they collectively make an impression nevertheless.

Only four of this cast went on to appear in the television series, and if you watched that you will recognise them: Bruno, sadly not doing his Shorofsky song, and Mr Shorofsky himself (Albert Hague), an actual teacher who was cast for authenticity, Leroy, the hugely talented dancer here providing the film with its spark of rebellion, and Debbie Allen's dance instructor Lydia who gets a big scene at the start, then practically disappears, though she was later rewarded with the "You got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs, and right here's where you start paying, in sweat!" intro at the start of every episode. As for the others, you'll know some of their faces even if the names don't spring to mind.

The point here is that all these young people are finding their individuality through their own self expression, so we see them becoming their own person in their distinctive ways. There's a sequence late on where Doris and new boyfriend, the wiseacre Ralph (Barry Miller) attend a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show which illustrates director Alan Parker's apparent ethos that everyone at that age wants to perform in some way, whether it's going out on a Saturday night and dancing the Time Warp or actually making a career of it. He is evidently impressed by the "anyone can join" accessibility across race, class and personality that this school represents, and takes every opportunity to highlight this through Christopher Gore's script.

The music was important too, as the composers rustled up an Oscar-winning tune with the title track, as sung by the Coco character (Irene Cara), which is seared into a few million memories and gave rise to the much-parodied scene where the students rush out into the street to dance to it. But in spite of all those numbers, this is not really a musical as they are no more concentrated on than those bits with the drama. All of human life is here is what we're being told, and what could have been all over the place makes up for its surface chaos by holding it all together with a benevolent view of its characters and a sense of wanting them to succeed, quite often in spite of themselves and whatever flaws in their makeup may try to sabotage their dreams. Of course, we never do find out if the students do fulfil these promises, but if they can come across as over earnest, a grounding in reality renders this believable without entirely eradicating the showbiz tone. Music by Michael Gore.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Alan Parker  (1944 - 2020)

Stylish British director, from advertising, with quite a few musicals to his credit: Bugsy Malone, Fame, Pink Floyd The Wall, The Commitments (possibly his best film) and Evita. Elsewhere he has opted for serious-minded works like Midnight Express, Shoot the Moon, Birdy, Angel Heart, Mississippi Burning and The Life of David Gale. The Road to Wellville was a strange attempt at outright comedy.

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