A ‘Fame’ Face Off

Written by admin on . Posted in On Topic OTDT, Opinion and Column.


Baby, remember my name…when people ask who that lone person was who preferred 2009 to the original movie from 1980.

I have now seen both and have also read the reviews. I believe that the producers of the updated version will probably wish I were a critic instead of a columnist.

I will not argue that the first one is a cinematic tour de force—better written, directed, acted and choreographed; rightly lauded with Academy Awards for its gritty portrayal of the students who attend one of our city’s most prestigious public high schools, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (where apparently now, as back then, no one is actually allowed to dance on the tables in the cafeteria).

Quite frankly though, I’m glad the new version lacks the harshness of its predecessor. The catchy theme song and dancing-on-the-taxi scene aside, I remember finding the original somewhat depressing: Boyd Gaines as the school’s star actor, who ends up waiting tables; Barry Miller, who’s character fancies himself a young Freddie Prinze, drowning in despair; Irene Cara’s “Coco” falling prey to a child pornographer; and who can forget I’s young, I’s single, and I loves to mingle! “Leroy,” played by Gene Anthony Ray? So self-absorbed, he tracks down his teacher (Anne Meara) at the hospital where her husband lays dying, to get her to up his grade. The film was rated R, for raw.

Plus, the first Fame used as a backdrop a circa 1980 NYC that was decrepit and dirty. Pre-Giuliani Times Square was a very scary area and Alphabet City was a drug den. Crime was dropping, but there was still plenty to go around. Graffiti became known as street art (mostly by those with spray-paint cans in hand), while the rest of us just saw swirls of color on subway cars, buses, storefronts, apartment-building walls and what seemed like every piece of sidewalk, making the aforementioned look defiled and filthy. Back then each neighborhood had its own unique flavor (which was a good thing), but the discrepancy in how each was treated by public services was totally unfair.

This was a grimy metropolis, which I’m glad that I—and my children—don’t live in anymore.

Times Square is now synonymous with Disney, Sephora and MTV. The Lower East Side and Harlem have benefited from gentrification. Social services are better; although criminals will always abound, crime is currently under control; and we are, believe it or not, a much kinder gentler city, and it shows in the new Fame.

Rated PG, the movie portrays kids with routine teen problems—and being teens, they make rookie career mistakes. Yet even though, like those who came before them, they all want—all together now: FAME!—the current crop seems less desperate. This time, when one is lured in by a sleazy actor, who claims to want to help her get a role, she, unlike her counterpart from 30 years ago, doesn’t let herself be victimized.

I think this attitude reflects real New York City kids, who, thanks to technology that didn’t exist back in the day, know they can make their own breaks via YouTube, reality shows and social networking websites.

Compare the two movies. Even though the remake is not an improvement, I think you’ll agree that our current city is, which is better for us, as well as for those who’ve come looking for fame. That being the case, I’ve made up my mind: I’m gonna live forever.


Lorraine Duffy Merkl’s debut novel,
Fat Chick, by The Vineyard Press, is coming soon.

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