Gone to the Movies: Fame


Everybody knows the title song.  For a little while in the early 80s, it was inescapable.  The song and the movie made Irene Cara a star, “Baby, remember my name.”  The movie was pretty successful, even winning two Oscars (Best Song and Best Original Score, of course).  But that was 32 years ago, and no one seems to remember much else about it.

That’s too bad.  Admittedly, for all it’s supposed grit and realism, Fame was at its heart a musical, complete with all the stock musical clichés.  But, man, was that music great.  The performances by the actors were mostly terrific.  It was tamed and toned down for television in 1982; although many of the actors reprised their roles, the characters were changed to be more palatable for middle America and a prime time slot.  (It got goofier and more clichéd as the years dragged on for the show, but I loved it anyway.)  The plot, such as it was, followed the struggles and successes of a group of students at New York’s High School of Performing Arts, from auditions to graduation.  It’s one of the few musicals I really love, largely because these people at least had an excuse to be bursting into song and dance every few minutes.

This is probably my favorite song from the soundtrack, sung by Paul McCrane, who played Montgomery.  It’s the yearning for a life well-lived, not someone else’s definition of happiness.  It fits so well with the dreams and desires of the characters, the unformed and insubstantial desire for fame.  By the end of the movie, they all understand the kinds of compromises and sacrifices that fame demands.  They’re a little older, a little wiser.  The final scene is the senior show, the school’s graduating class performing all together, celebrating both making it through school and the road they’re about to embark on.

The lines of a Walt Whitman poem set to music, this song didn’t really resonate with me until I got older.  But the joy of life and living, the radiance of this song means so much more now.  “I’ll look back on Venus, I’ll look back on Mars, and I’ll burn with the fire of ten million stars.  And in time, we will all be stars.”  This is the real point of the movie, from the solo singers and dancers to everyone in the chorus: Everyone is a star in their own right.  You, me, and the whole damn universe.

2 thoughts on “Gone to the Movies: Fame

  1. Was it 32 years ago?! Gee whizakers! I used to pass by that school — the school it’s based on all the time on 46th St. in Manhattan. I envision these kids dancing outside on the cars and whatnot. My dad went to an arty highschool. During one of those conversations you have with your parents when you find out something interesting, he said his school was something like the Fame school, with kids doing ballet in the hall and stuff. I love love love the Walt Whitman based piece. The poem of course is great but to illustrate it with the physical was genius.

    • I was a little stunned when I did the math, but yeah, 32 years. The only thing I don’t like about that clip is that there’s not very much dancing. Gene Anthony Ray was a force of nature.

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