Auditions. It’s hard to match the head rush that comes from watching that sweaty mix of hope and desperation, the crush of bodies locked in competition, the flubbed notes, the missed pirouettes, the missed opportunities. It’s drama writ large, and it is for this reason that many a performance film, from All That Jazz to Every Little Step to the original Fame, begins at the beginning:
The 2009 remake of Fame takes the same approach, opening with a voiceover from Debbie Allen’s famous speech—“You want fame? Well, fame costs”—as a mass of fresh-faced hopefuls converge on New York’s performing arts high school. They come bearing tubas, dance bags, scripts, a bad case of nerves and no small amount of hubris. The camera makes a broad, panoramic sweep, and we take it all in: The bitchy ballet teacher (Bebe Neuwirth) dismissing an under-talented wannabe; the overeager and overacting theater student; the rosin boxes waiting for point shoes; the Gumby-esque dancers warming up in the hallway. And in those first few moments, it’s all good. In fact, it’s very good.
But the rest of the remixed, Y2K version of Fame—let’s call it Fame.2—can’t match the grit and intensity of the Academy Award-winning original. Somewhere between development and production, Fame.2 got caught up in the moviemaking processor—the one that crushes creativity and originality and whips it into made-for-the-multiplex mush. The result is more MTV music video than exegesis on the life of the performing arts high-schooler.
The original Fame, directed by Alan Parker in 1980, took a cinéma vérité approach, giving the film a raw sense of immediacy. (The film was based on two real-life Manhattan performing arts high schools.) You could see the dust in the air of the old school building, smell the funk of a ballet class; taste the mystery meat in the substandard school cafeteria. (Shady Sadie!)