Nearly thirty years ago the world watched as seven students were admitted to the New York High School of Performing Arts, and began to fight for their dreams. The MGM academy award winning film Fame was born, addressing surprisingly controversial issues for 1980. From homosexuality to teen pregnancy, abortion to drug use, illiteracy to interracial relationships, Fame took its audience through all four years of high school for this small group of students.
In 2009, United Artists brought back the writer of the first film, Christopher Gore, and attempted to recreate a classic. Characters were shuffled around, genders changed, and this time, we watched as ten students this time were admitted to the same high school, and the timeline remained similar to the original, following the characters through to graduation.
In viewing both films, it’s clear that the original was far edgier than the remake. With its heavy themes and unique take on teenagers in the eighties, the movie had more of an impact than its twenty first century counterpart. The remake focuses more on familial relationships, and is clearly more uplifting, with a very brief touch on teenage suicide. The theme of the first was survival; the second, dreams.
The Main Characters (includes spoilers):
Doris Finsecker (Maureen Teefy) – A shy girl who’s mother wants her to get in more than she does in the beginning, forcing her to sing for an audition for the drama department. She wants Doris to go because she doesn’t trust public schools, and they can’t afford private. Eventually she finds a boyfriend in Ralph Garcie (who in pure teen movie fashion, annoyed her earlier in the film).
Coco Hernandez (Irene Cara) – The ‘token Hispanic’ present in so many movies of the time period, Coco is portrayed by the singer Irene Cara. Coco is in school hoping to use it to jumpstart her career. Her philosophy is to keep looking for the next best thing. As she tells another student, she believes she’s “doing [her] last dance on this dark little planet”. She’s determined that it be amazing.
Ralph Garci/Raul Garcia (Barry Miller) – Another Hispanic who doesn’t really want to be, Ralph makes it into the school based primarily on his comic routines. Essentially, he’s a jerk, though we discover that the reason he acts this way is only to protect himself from being hurt. Deep down, he’s loyal to his family, wanting to be a comedian in order to make enough money to take care of his sisters.
Montgomery McNeil (Paul McCrane) – The only homosexual student (that we know of) , Montgomery is the somewhat of an outcast who doesn’t care. It’s through him that we watch Doris’ and Ralph’s relationship develop.
Leroy Johnson (Gene Anthony Ray) – An illiterate but talented dancer, Leroy spends most of the film clashing with his English teacher, but in Sophomore year, he is seduced by a transfer student, Hilary, and impregnates her.
Hilary van Doren (Antonia Franceschi) – Transferring in at the beginning of Sophomore Year, Hilary is an upper class ballet dancer. By senior year, she ends up pregnant, but has received an offer to join a dance company. She goes to a clinic for an abortion.
Jenny Garrison (Kay Panabaker) – Again, a shy girl who wants to be an actress. During the course of the film, she enters into a relationship with Marco Ramone, and begins to grow more comfortable with herself.
Denise Dupree (Naturi Naughton) – Her parents enrolled her in the school so that she could enhance her skills as a classical pianist, but while in school, Denise discovers that she is a talented singer. Under the influence of two other students, she records a song, is offered a record contract, and realizes her dream of becoming a singer, following in the footsteps of Alicia Keys and Mariah Carey.
Marco Ramone (Asher Book) – Jenny’s boyfriend, Marco is an extremely talented singer who, in Jenny’s words, things just come easy to.
Malik Washburn (Collins Pennie) – Malik is a rapper who has seen some pretty horrible things in his life, as we learn through the film. Not long before it took place, he saw his sister get shot by crossfire during a gang war. He spends the film sneaking off to school behind his mother’s back, who feels that drama and singing are useless for life.
Kevin Barrett (Paul McGill) – Kevin is a dancer who, according to his teacher, just is not good enough. The only reason he is there is that he loves to dance, and doesn’t want to just be a teacher. In the end, he’s told by his teacher that he should really give it up. Instead of graduating, he returns home to teach dance.
Alice Ellerton (Kherington Payne) – Taking on Hilary’s role of the upper class dancer, Alice falls for the unlikely Victor Taveras, but in the end leaves him – and school – before graduation to join a dance company. She, unlike Hilary, does not end up pregnant.
The music of the original Fame is part of what propelled Irene Cara into the limelight. She sang three songs, “Hot Lunch” (originally slated to be the movie’s title, but changed when the producer noticed a pornographic film playing on 42nd street with the same name), “Out Here on My Own”, and “Fame”. All the songs written for the film were designed to tie into its themes, including hope, survival, and the desire to be great and remembered. The final song during the graduation/Senior Showcase is “I Sing the Body Electric”, which is about being comfortable with who you are and at the same time not giving up, and believing that you will go onto greatness.
The remake’s music contains a lot more hip hop and rap, mixed with a few love ballads, sung by Asher Book. Two songs from the original are included, “Out Here on my Own” and “Fame” – though the latter is updated for the year. Both songs are sung by Naturi Naughton. The songs for the new movie are somewhat sexier than the original, and the final graduation song tells you to hold onto your dreams.
Clips from both films:
“I mean, if I don’t have a personality of my own, so what? I’m an actress! I can put on as many personalities as I want!” – Doris
“To schizophrenia!” – Montgomery
“I have talent.” – Malik
“And who on Earth told you that?” – Malik’s Mom
“You did.” – Malik