FAME (1980)

(a film review by Timothy J. Verret)

It just seems like 1980 was a stellar year for me as far as movies go. It was the year that my favorite film of all time, ORDINARY PEOPLE, came out and won the Best Picture Oscar. The other Best Picture Oscar nominees for the year 1980 were TESS, THE ELEPHANT MAN, RAGING BULL, and COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER. TESS, THE ELEPHANT MAN and COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER (sorry, RAGING BULL) also rank as three of my favorite films (TESS #9 on my list, THE ELEPHANT MAN definitely in the top 20, and COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER probably not in the top 20 but Sissy Spacek’s performance as Loretta Lynn ranks as one of the best ever). All that said, I guess it should come as no surprise to me that FAME also is a personal favorite of mine, more than anything because it chronicles the lives of artistic boys and girls at the High School for the Performing Arts in N.Y.C., from their freshman year to their final year, when they have become men and women, forever changed by their artistic pursuits and the their need to go there at all costs. I guess some would call FAME a musical, but is it really? Outside of the two songs from the film, “Fame” which garnered the Oscar for Best Song, and “Out Here On My Own,” which in my opinion should have won for Best Song (both sung impeccably by 80s Irene Cara), we are not talking about musicals like WEST SIDE STORY or SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS here. We are talking about a drama that just happens to have music (kind of like YENTL) and acting and dancing in it. The performers who are a cast of relative unknowns are sensational, not a bad one in the bunch. The screenplay by Christopher Gore also won an Oscar, rightly so. The many intimately revealing stories are woven together to create a tapestry of what drives those to want to succeed, to stand out, to make it on Broadway or make it any other way as long as it is about fame. The line that sticks with me the most is from the teacher who is being challenged by one of her students to pass him, even though he clearly didn’t put in the work. He was a black man and felt the white teacher somehow looked down on him because of his race. As he verbally attacks her on this front in the hospital where her husband is sick and possibly dying, she yells back to him, “Don’t you kids think about anyone but yourselves?” Wow! Ain’t that the truth. Those who are artistically gifted have a real hard time not thinking of anyone but themselves. They don’t do this to be annoying or to offend anyone. It is simply that they know in their hearts that if they don’t make it as an artist, they just might not make it at all. That’s how passionate they are about the artist they are and the artist they want to be. The problem, though, that can happen with this outlook, as it does to the character in the film, Ralph Garci, is that what artists want so much as far as success can be exactly what they end up hating. Artists, and I count myself in this category and probably why I’ve even writing this review in the first place, need to understand that what they create is original, unique, and extraordinary, no one can take that away from them and no one else could possibly create what they create, but they need to also understand that art is subjective, some might love it, some might hate, and they probably will, and that rejection of someone’s art is not the rejection of the artist as a person, although it can certainly feel that way. FAME explores the drive of so much talent and the need to succeed in a world that might or might not embrace that talent. But artists like the ones in FAME, and like myself, need to just keep on acting, writing, painting, dancing, singing….even if no one gets it…and succeed not on someone else’s terms but simply on their own terms through their own unique talents and their own unique gifts that the world has never quite seen and will never be able to see quite like this again when they’re gone. The film’s song, “Fame,” has the line, “I’m gonna live forever,” and if someone can create fearlessly and do it in spite of the naysayers, that artist might just live forever. FAME is a film that will live forever in my heart, as all great works of art do!

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