Saturday, June 30, 2018

A STAR IS BORN 1976

"Cut away from me?"
"Honestly, it's too much of you. They don't want you in every scene."
"They don't? Then why do they write me fan letters ever day? Why do they beg me for my photograph? Why? Because they want to see me! ME...Norma Desmond! Put it back"
"Okay."      
                                                            -  Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Every generation deserves its own revolution, its own slang, its own music—and, apparently, its own A Star is Born. Yes, that enduring Tears Behind the Tinsel fable about the doomed love affair between a star emergent and a star descendent is returning to the screen for its fourth iteration. What began life in 1932 as George Cuckor’s What Price Hollywood? starring Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman, was, in 1937, retooled into the form most recognize today and given the title A Star is Born starring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. In 1954 George Cukor returned to helm what is perhaps the most familiar and iconic version of the now thrice-told tale, the musicalized A Star is Born starring Judy Garland and James Mason. Garland's version, like those that came before, took place in the Hollywood motion picture industry. When Barbra Streisand teamed with rocker Kris Kristofferson for the eagerly-anticipated 1976 remake, it retained its musical format but changed the setting to the world of rock and roll. Well, let's just say the music industry.

October, 2018 will bring us yet another musical adaptation of A Star is Born, this time starring Bradley Cooper (making his directing debut), and Lady Gaga (nee Stefani Germanotta) whom I’m glad to see has abandoned her meat dress. Though one might think a contemporary update of A Star is Born would find an up-and-coming winner of a reality TV singing competition falling in love with an opioid-addicted YouTube celebrity suddenly faced with a deficit of “likes”; from the looks of  the new film's trailerCooper sporting long hair and a scraggly beard, Ms. Gaga granted a Funny Girl-esque scene where the hero tells the self-effacing heroine she’s beautifulit’s clear A Star is Born: 2018 will be taking its cues from the Barbra Streisand version.
Barbra Streisand as Esther Hoffman
Kris Kristofferson as John Norman Howard
Gary Busey as Bobby Ritchie, a road manager
Paul Mazursky as Brian Wexler, a manager
As Helen Lawson reminds us, “Broadway doesn’t go for booze and dope”; but when it comes to the world of rock & roll, accept no substitutions. At least that's the philosophy of down and burnt-out rock sensation John Norman Howard (Kristofferson), who needs a bump of coke and a swig of Jack Daniels just to get through his undisciplined concert engagements. Concerts in which he’s obliged to give repeat performances of long-ago past successes (like a pre- “Garden Party” Rick Nelson) to faceless throngs of entitled fans he has grown to resent. Unprofessional, uncommitted, and disrespectful of his own talent, John Norman is a has-been in training, isolated and world-weary of the sex/drugs/rock &roll existence of a superstar.
More a folk singer than hard rocker, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson didn't write any of his songs for A Star is Born.  Which is a pity, and perhaps why they're so undistinguished 

One alcohol-soaked night out on the town he happens to catch the act of curly-haired chanteuse Esther Hoffman (Streisand), and finds in the warm, lush, plush notes emerging from her fair throat, a glimmer of the commitment and raw talent he’d lost touch with within himself. He’s instantly besotted.
The Oreos
Yep. That name actually passed for cute and edgy back in the '70s. Though the two women flanking La Streisand appear throughout the film as Esther's backup singers and ostensible friends, neither is even given a name in the credits. Maybe that's because their primary purpose in the film is to make Streisand sound less like an "Easy Listening" artist, while simultaneously serving as signifiers of how hip and down to earth Esther is (Look! She even has black friends!). In real life, backup singers Clydie King (left, giving Streisand some serious nail competition) and Venetta Fields are recording legends in their own right, with careers dating back to the early '60s. 

Putting aside for the moment the unlikelihood of growl-rocker John Norman even being able to tolerate the Captain & Tennille-esque ditty Esther is crooning; in order for this scene to work one must also accept that between persistent interruptions from a waitress, a pushy fan, and the eventual outbreak of a fistfight, John Norman detects something special about Esther (her perpetual backlight, perhaps) that makes him certain his racing heart is not just the result of all that cocaine, but rather, something in her lovely voice and shy manner (“You’re blowin’ my act!”) that touches his soul.

They court cute, he wooing her by showing her his adorably immature and self-destructive streak, she by being all judgy about his life choices, thereby demonstrating that she’s a straight-shooter unimpressed by wealth and celebrity. How can love fail to bloom? 
And although Esther exhibits very little in the way of professional ambition (she actually blows a commercial gig because her innate artistic integrity prevents her from taking the lyrics to a cat food jingle seriously), John Norman encourages her songwriting and uses his fame and connections to give his lady love a leg up in the business. Her breakthrough moment comes when she steps out onstage in a conservative pantsuit and wows a crowd of rock fans with her MOR pop groovin’... and before you know it, a star is born.
Wailin' Esther Hoffman
She's not your father's rock & roller...oh, wait...maybe she is

Romantically, John Norman and Esther are good for each other in that mutual fixer-upper way beloved of soap operas and doomed romances. So, when they hastily marry and the movie grinds to a halt for a protracted fashion show/Barbra Streisand ass and legs appreciation hour; there's some comfort in knowing they can’t keep up these shenanigans for much longer. 

And all those lengthy love montages come at a price. Because were talking Barbra Streisand here, maybe the filmmakers expect audiences to take Esther’s eventual success as a given. But in a 2 ½ hour movie titled A Star is Born, it’s practically perverse the way the movie fails to give us any indication of just how Esther becomes a star. One minute she's an overnight discovery, the next she's got a song on the charts and the world is clamoring for her to go on tour. Maybe all of this wouldn't be such a problem if we were even given a sense of her reaction to suddenly being wealthy, well-known, and having all her dreams come true. But on the contrary, Esther never seems to enjoy her success at all. The screenplay has her treating her newfound fame as some kind of necessary annoyance she has to endure in order to support her poncho habit and all those artfully staged gambols with John Norman out in the desert. 
Tony Orlando Stands By As Rita Coolidge (Mrs. Kristofferson) Eyes Barbra Suspiciously
Even before her inebriated husband appears in time to drop an F-bomb on live TV, Esther is the glummest Grammy nominee you've ever seen. Most us know that the average celebrity would sell their first-born for an industry award, but not our Esther. On what should be a realization of a lifetime dream, Esther is so disinterested in the award she's about to receive, she almost leaves the ceremony early.


As Esther climbs further up the ladder of success (we’ll just have to take the film’s word for that), John Norman finds it increasingly difficult to gain even a foothold, sinking deeper and deeper into his old self-sabotaging ways. Since there’s no telling how much time has elapsed between courtship to crack-up, the tension of their relationship takes a backseat to the masochism. That is until fate or an act of selflessness steps in (it’s left ambiguous which), successfully granting Streisand fans what they’ve wanted all along: unobstructed access to La Plus Grande Diva du Monde.

They’re rewarded for their patience with an undeniably impressive eight-minute concert closeup in which Streisand's magnificent vocalizing is repeatedly in danger of being upstaged (and not in a good way) by her Valerie Cherish-style boogying. My takeaway from this sequence: Esther on her own, singing her late husband's songs, with heightening self-assurance, introduced to the crowd as Esther Hoffman-Howard...THIS is the moment, in the film's finale, that a star is born.
New footage restored to A Star is Born in 2018 expands the finale to include more wide shots

I’m not overly fond of remakes, but in 1976 so much had changed in regard to celebrity (recording stars were as big as movie stars) and society’s attitudes towards women (a wife with a more successful career than her husband wasn’t considered “quite” the emasculating tragedy it was in 1954), a rock & roll update of A Star is Born sounded like a pretty good idea. Especially since, thanks to The Who and Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975), I had only just become acquainted with the joys of rock music after having spent my geek adolescence listening almost exclusively to movie soundtrack albums and Original Broadway Cast recordings.

It also struck me as a good idea, what with someone being bold (foolhardy?) enough to embark upon remaking an esteemed demi-classic starring a beloved gay icon from the past, that said remake was to star Barbra Streisand, the reigning gay icon of the present. (One of them, anyway. Reigning gay icons #2 and #3Diana Ross and Liza Minnelli—had most recently pandered to and taxed the patience of their fanbase with the respective 1975 releases Mahogany and Lucky Lady).
With A Star is Born set to open on Christmas Day at San Francisco’s Northpoint Theatre, I guess I allowed myself to get so caught up in the pre-release hype and publicity (two high-profile remakes, A Star is Born and King Kong, were set to duke it out at the boxoffice) that the central flaw and paradox of those two “good ideas” (rock & roll + Barbra Streisand) didn’t really hit me until I was sitting, dumbstruck, watching the movie in the theater.
The dog-eared, laid-back, predominantly white male, heteronormative world of ‘70s rock depicted in this film just isn’t an easy fit for Streisand’s image, look, or sound.

In retrospect, I see that the theater and supper club-trained Streisand might have been better served by a A Star is Born remake set in the more traditional showbiz worlds of Hollywood, Broadway, or even Las Vegas. But seeing how A Star is Born is but a variant of the same “Oh, My Man/Oh, My Career” themes mined to a fare thee well by Streisand in both Funny Girl and Funny Lady; I can see why she may have felt in need of a change-up.
"I don't mean to be difficult... ."
Misogyny has always played a factor in how Streisand's professionalism has been reported in the press. Sensitivity to this is perhaps why by 1976 it had almost become a staple of Streisand films to feature a scene where she's seen telling people how to do their jobs.

But whatever validity lies in the idea of a rock-themed A Star is Born—which makes sense as a naturalistic musical drama starring then real-life couple Carly Simon and James Taylor (actual early considerations when the script was known as Rainbow Road), directed by someone like Martin Scorsese or Robert Altman—are dashed the minute Streisand appears onscreen.
Is she magnetic? Yes. Does she draw the eye and energize the film? Yes. Does she have a remarkable voice? Yes again. Is she for one minute convincing as the kind of singer capable of getting rock audiences to sit up and take notice? Absolutely not.

Tragically unhip (albeit, appealingly so), Streisand’s studied self-awareness, larger-than-life persona, impeccably-timed comic “takes,” and penchant for drag queen levels of glamour overkill are professional as hell, but feel all wrong for the world of concert stadium rock. Even taking into account the weirdness of the 1976 music scene, wherein youth-centric TV music shows like The Midnight Special and Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert would feature such head-scratcher groupings as The Hudson Brothers and Helen Reddy appearing alongside Chaka Kahn and Fleetwood Mac; buying Barbra Streisand as a rocker still remains a bit of a stretch.
For A Few Dollars More
Critics ripped it apart, but A Star is Born was a huge hit for Streisand
and one of the top boxoffice releases of 1976

A Star is Born is Streisand’s first movie after satisfying a four-picture, ten-year commitment to producer Ray Stark with the “contractually obligated” Funny Lady. And as the first of her films over which she was able to exert near-total control (her clashes with director Frank Pierson are the stuff of legend), it’s no small wonder that A Star is Born at times feels a tad overdetermined.  It's the movie equivalent of a teenager getting a tattoo or piercing in order to assert their individuality and emancipation.

A Star is Born was Streisand's big chance to present herself exactly as she wanted to be seen. Telling the press that scenes from the film were drawn from her relationship with Jon Peters (her hairdresser on 1974s For Pete’s Sake, now producer and lover); dressing Esther’s apartment with furnishings from her own home; indulging herself with a “Ms. Streisand’s clothes from…Her Closet” credit; for the first time Streisand actually invited audiences to draw comparisons to herself and a character she's playing. 
What's fascinating about A Star is Born is witnessing just how a star, when finally granted power, chooses to wield it.

Woman on Top
Mercifully, Streisand as Esther Hoffman is considerably less passive and victimized than her predecessors. She fights back, yells, tells experts how to do their job (a Streisand movie staple by now), and engages in gender-flip activities like proposing marriage, removing "obey" from their marriage vows, putting makeup on John Norman in the bathtub, wearing suits when she performs, and riding John Norman like a pony when they have sex.
Lost Inside Of You
One of the reasons I was so keen on seeing A Star is Born was because earlier that year I saw Kris Kristofferson (a LOT of him) in The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, and I'd developed a major crush. I'm not sure if I was crushed or relieved to discover Mr. K shared no scenes with Streisand as explicit as those he shared with Sarah Miles

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
I know what I’ve written thus far doesn’t give the impression, but A Star is Born really IS a movie I love. Part of it has to do with my nostalgia for the '70s (and this movie is as '70s as a mood ring), some of it has to do with the camp elements of celebrity narcissism and Streisand's old-fashioned movie goddess fabulousness. But chiefly because the film entertains. I may never once feel anything for the either the romance or the characters, I can't say that the film doesn't have its oddball charms. 

Part of my love and appreciation for Barbra Streisand lies in the fact that even when she’s miscast (Hello, Dolly!), ill-used (Meet The Fockers), or unhappy (Funny Lady), she’s never less than mesmerizing to watch. And listen to. 
Future Oscar-nominee Sally Kirkland shoots Esther's best side as Barbra Streisand channels Cleo Laine

Discounting the short-shrift Kristofferson is given in the way of songs (although I like “Crippled Crow” a lot), the soundtrack to A Star is Born is one of its strengths. “Evergreen” went on to win the Oscar for Best Song (the film's only win of four nominations), but my personal favorite has always been Paul Williams’ “With One More Look At You.” In a weird way, listening to the album is an almost purer A Star is Born experience than watching the film. I got the LP as an early Christmas gift and listened to it over and over before I saw the film. When listened to in order, I found the songs conveyed character and carried the narrative arc far more evocatively than the movie.
As John Norman's road manager, Gary Busey gives a performance so good,
you practically ache thinking about what A Star is Born had the potential to be

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
I think it’s fair that every generation gets its own A Star is Born. With each new incarnation comes the hope that the film will deviate from its predecessors enough to say something new and relevant to its time. Everybody loves a good love story, so there’s always that; but fame worship and the cult of celebrity dominate our culture so disproportionally and dangerously these days, a real opportunity presents itself with a remake.
So, A Star is Born, I guess it's time to take one more look at you.


BONUS MATERIAL
"Will there be anything else, Ms. Streisand?"
Barbra Streisand's assistant during the making of A Star Is Born was actress Joan Marshall. Then married to director Hal Ashby (Shampoo), she's billed as Joan Marshall Ashby in the credits. But fans of William Castle know her as Jean Arless, the knife-wielding star of Homicidal.
That's Roslyn Kind, Streisand's younger half-sister. She appears in the film for
less time than it takes for you to read this. And she's never in focus, to boot.

Streisand & Kristofferson were reunited in 1984 for her first music video: "Left in the Dark." The six-minute video for the Jim Steinman song (which appears on her "Emotion " album) was directed by Jonathan Kaplan (The Accused, Love Field, Heart Like A Wheel). Watch it HERE

From the Literary Corner
Novelizations were a popular movie marketing tool in the '70s. If the book is anything like the purple prose featured on the promotional bookmarks (click on image to enlarge), perhaps I shouldn't have passed this one by


Are You Watching Me Now?
Copyright © Ken Anderson

Friday, June 15, 2018

FAME 1980

"I am so excited because I'm gonna go to the High School of Performing Arts! I mean, I was dying to be a serious actress. Anyway, it's the first day of acting classand we're in the auditorium and the teacher, Mr. Karp... ."    
                                                       A Chorus Line - James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante

I read recently that the estate of choreographer/director Michael Bennett is planning a 2025 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line to commemorate its 50th Anniversary (feel old yet?). A Chorus Line opened on Broadway in July of 1975, and I still have vivid memories of seeing the touring company when it played San Francisco in 1976. A theatrical experience that, to this day, has never been surpassed.
I didn’t see the iconic musical’s most recent incarnation, the official 2006 Broadway revival, but I recall with equal vividness a conversation I had at the time with a young dance student who’d just returned from seeing the NY production, his first-ever encounter with A Chorus Line. He raved about the show and thoroughly enjoyed the production, but in the end was at a loss to understand the show’s reputation as a groundbreaking classic: “I liked it…I just don’t get what all the fuss was about!”  
Said “fuss” being that A Chorus Line won nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, the Pulitzer Prize, ran for 15 years on Broadway, and was an important and influential pop culture phenomenon the world over.
While listening and resisting the impulse to explain the significance of A Chorus Line by means of sign language (i.e., my hands around his throat), it became apparent to me that this youngster’s reaction was perhaps born of his having grown up during the Disneyfication years of Broadway. Raised in the post-The Lion King/Wicked world of musical theater as amusement park attraction, seeing a show consisting of little more than a bare stage and a troupe of talented dancer/actor/singers must have come as something of a shock. Similarly, having been weaned on Step Up #643 and dance/stunt competition TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance, it's conceivable he grew up viewing dance as grandstanding spectacle. I can't imagine Michael Bennett’s classic musical theater choreography looks very impressive when one has been conditioned to see dance performance in terms of Herculean feats of gymnastic strength and flexibility antithetical to the “move as one” aesthetic of chorus work (“Don’t pop your head, Cassie!”).
However, there was one eye-opening takeaway from our conversation which gave me a better grasp of why new generations might find themselves at a loss to understand exactly what my generation found so powerful and innovative about A Chorus Line: personal self-disclosure as a metaphor for the significance of the individual. A Chorus Line came out smack in the middle of the "Me Generation" when the idea that the average person might have a story worth telling was still something of a novelty.
In today’s climate of famous-at-any-price celebrity, reality TV, and toxic social media over-sharing; nothing dates A Chorus Line more than its cast of dancers who shun having the spotlight shone on them; recoil from being asked to talk about themselves; and don’t mind being another anonymous, nameless, chorus dancer. As long as they get the chance to dance and keep doing what they did for love. As nakedly honest and heartachingly revelatory as those monologues seemed to me in 1976, I suspect that nothing disclosed by those characters would warrant more than a handful of “likes” on Twitter today.
This awareness of the degree to which the show business landscape has changed over the years became an ineradicable part of revisiting one of my favorite musicals of the ‘80s: Alan Parker’s Fame
Irene Cara as Coco Hernandez
"How bright our spirits go shooting out into space depends on how much we contribute to the earthly brilliance of this world. And I mean to be a major contributor. A sure-as-shit major contributor."
Gene Anthony Ray as Leroy Johnson
"I'm gonna be a good dancer. You will NOT keep me down!"
Maureen Teefy as Doris Finsecker
"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!"
Barry Miller as Ralph Garci (Raul Garcia)
"That's the meanest high there is. It beats dope. It beats sex. I LOVE fucking acting!"
Paul McCrane as Montgomery McNeil
"I mean, never being happy isn't the same as being unhappy."
Laura Dean as Lisa Monroe
"I only ever wanted to be a dancer."
Lee Curreri as Bruno Martelli
"You're not my age. Nobody's my age. Maybe I'm ahead of my time!"
Antoniza Francheschi as Hilary van Doren
"You see, I've always had this crazy dream of dancing all the classical roles before I'm 21."

Fame, the American feature film debut of British director Alan Parker (Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express) wasaccording to Parker, but denied by producer David De Silva—inspired by A Chorus Line. Specifically, the dramatic potential suggested by the song “Nothing,” which references a young dancer’s early experiences attending New York’s High School of Performing Arts.

That makes Christopher Gore’s original screenplay a A Chorus Line prequel of sorts, in which the formative experiences in the lives of eight principal hopefuls are highlighted—from auditions to graduation—at The High School of Performing Arts. Taking the kids from roughly the ages of 14 to 18, the movie combines elements of the coming-of-age film, the slice of life drama, and the backstage musical. Most effectively (and entertainingly), Fame also recalls and revitalizes those fondly-remembered high school movies of my youth—Up The Down Staircase, The Trouble With Angels, To Sir With Love, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Blending elements of comedy and drama, the four-year journey of the students of PA (High School of Performing Arts) is, contrary to its title and the sanitized, rah-rah movies and TV shows it inspired, a fairly dark, hard-shelled look at the blood, sweat, and tears that go into pursuing a life in the arts. Ironically, the achievement of fame doesn’t even factor into the fates of the characters.
Ann Meara as Mrs. Sherwood
Jim Moody as acting teacher Mr. Farrell
The main characters represent a cross-section of ethnic, emotional, and creative types, and as such, their experiences and relationships tend to follow a fairly predictable arc. There’s driven Coco (triple threat dancer/singer/actor); brash Leroy (dancer); shy Doris (actor/singer), troubled Ralph (actor/stand-up comic); closeted Montgomery (actor/singer); solitary Bruno (musician/composer), directionless Lisa (dancer or actor…whatever), and self-assured Hilary (ballerina). These terse descriptions are in no way a diminution of the characters or performances; merely an indicator of the built-in limitations of the film’s multi-character structure.
Ilse Sass and Albert Hague as Mrs. Tossoff & Mr. Sharofsky
Debbie Allen and Joanna Merlin as honor student Lydia Grant and ballet instructor Miss Berg

In order to make room for songs and dance numbers while tackling everything from illiteracy, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, and sexual exploitation; it’s necessary for the script to resort to a bit of narrative shorthand. But the sublime triumph of Fame—which stands as a resounding testament to Parker and the film’s remarkably engaging cast—is that the film, by virtue of its emotional vitality and cinematic ingenuity (the contribution of longtime Alan Parker editor Gerry Hambling is invaluable) achieves moments of real poignancy and is never less than an exhilarating, kinetic delight. Instead of avoiding the “aspiring teens put on a show” tropes standardized by Judy Garland Mickey Rooney in those old MGM musicals, Fame cozies up to and reinvigorates these showbiz movie conventions, resulting in my responding to clich├ęs I thought I’d grown immune to ages ago.
As teen musical’s go, Fame is distinguished by its supporting cast (the kids - many of them students from the real High School of Performing Arts - look like kids, dress like kids, are refreshingly imperfect and have faces with diversity and character) and R-rated grittiness. Mercifully spared the need coyness in terms of language or subject matter, Fame presents a vision of New York simultaneously seedy and scintillating. Bracingly at odds with the all-white pop-culture visions of Manhattan foisted upon us by Woody Allen and TV shows like Sex & the City, Seinfeld, and Friends; Fame’s New York actually looks like New York. It’s level of inclusion (it’s nice to see so many PoC studying ballet, classical music, and Shakespearean acting) is something 2018 filmmakers could still take a lesson from.
Carol Massenburg as Shirley Mulholland ("That's two L's")
One feels the camera could be trained on any of the kids in the cast and still produce a fascinating story. One of my favorite small roles, played with authenticity, humor, and sass, yet never fails to break my heart, is that of Shirley, Leroy's less-then-gifted dance partner.

If I have any criticisms at all, they’re of the subjective, nit-picking sort. For all the scenes that soar (the audition sequence is so good it could stand alone as a short film), there are head-scratchers like the recurring gag that asks us to share the ogling gaze of the adolescent boys peeking into the girls’ locker room. My problem isn’t so much with the fact that this sort of mainstreamed harassment has been normalized with “boys with be boys” rhetoric for too long; it’s that--given how Coco’s story plays out (a scene in which, once again, the director’s gaze renders us complicit in a woman’s sexual exploitation) it baffles how a director can display so much sensitivity in some areas while revealing such a blind spot in others.
When I was young, I thought the sequence in which Coco is taken in by a pervy con man (one calling himself Francois Lafete, no less) lacked credibility. I thought it portrayed Coco as dumb, which she never was. Now I see the scene as being considerably smarter and more perceptive of Coco's fatal character flaw than I'd first realized. She prides herself on being a savvy professional who knows all the angles. This con is able to work only because Coco is led to believe she has the upper hand.

Another of my gripes is the character of Montgomery. He simply hasn’t aged very well. Putting aside his cringe-worthy monologue (“Gay used to mean such a happy kind of word once.”), I give Fame credit for a positive portrayal of a gay character in a mainstream film at a time when William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) gave us yet another homicidal homosexual, and The Village People were still tapdancing around their own queer identity (the deeply closeted Can’t Stop The Music was released just a month later). But for me, Montgomery is a throwback to the days when movies thought the best way to make a controversial character sympathetic was to render them as a figure of pity. As a teen grappling with his homosexuality, Montgomery feels isolated (in a Performing Arts School!), yet we in the audience can see he’s surrounded by all manner of gay kids. I don't expect anything as progressive as giving him a high-school sweetheart, but it would have been nice for his character to see that he wasn't the only one, and that "gay" could be happy. But, as written, Montgomery is content to stay on the sidelines, looking all alabaster and moony while playing Queer Eye for the Straight Guy & Gal to Doris and Ralph. At least he gets his own song (penned by McCrane).
My functioning gaydar knew in 1980 that the late Gene Anthony Ray was gay long before it was confirmed by Fame TV show cast members several years later when I had become a dancer myself. Making his film debut in Fame, the dynamic Ray passed away from an HIV-related stroke in 2003.

Fame was released three years before Star Search popularized caterwauling as singing and made way for today’s barrage of I-deserve-fame-because-I-want-it, celebrity-in-an-instant horseraces like American Idol, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent. Thus, one of the things I find most gratifying about Fame is its realistic perspective and persistent repudiation of the fame myths our culture keeps feeding young people.
I've always perceived A Chorus Line's glittering finale to be a much more heartbreaking and stark close to the show than its rousing melody would have us believe (after spending an entire evening getting to see these dancers as unique individuals, it is their fate to once again fade into chorus anonymity). Similarly, I've never felt Fame's exuberant theme song or its emphatic title to be really  what the film is all about. The cocksure lyrics (in the context of the film, written by Coco, but actually written by Dean Pitchford to Michael Gore's music) may reflect Coco's determined quest for for fame and immortality, but the movie is more about the pain and sacrifices of chasing success. For me the Oscar-winning song "Fame" is less a paean to the power of dreams than a pep-talk anthem to  optimistic wishful thinking.
Leslie Quickley as Sheila
Fame's casting is so spot-on and the kids so idiosyncratic and charming that no matter how brief their on-camera time, you come to look for them in scene after scene. They become the ones you cheer for in the big graduation number 


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Fame is technically an '80s film, but it's roots are clearly in the '70s. By this I mean it's a product of the '70s film sensibility where creative choices are made appropriate to the material (swearing, nudity, drug use, sex) and not simply grinding out a feel-good musical to pander to the lucrative PG-rating demographic. I've always thought Fame was a very good movie, but in these post-High-School Musical years it's never looked better.  One look at the 2009 remake (I film I recommend you avoid at all costs) confirms that what Alan Parker and company have pulled off here is something very special. So good that even the watered-down TV show and fairly awful theatrical version can't defile.
What Are You Doing Now?
Anyone who knows an actor learns quickly never to ask that question, for it invariably leads to the awkward conversation centered around the jobs that one didn't get. I love that Fame includes such painful, reality-check moments. Here the current graduating class encounters the most promising senior of their Freshman year (Boyd Gaines)...waiting tables
.

PERFORMANCES
An example of ensemble casting at its finest, I can't say there's a single performance I find any fault with. The veterans and novices deliver with equal assurance, a credit to Parker casting cannily close both to type and the relative demands of each role. To cite a particular favorite is less a comparative assessment of one player being "better" than another, than it is a recounting of my own emotional journey watching the film. Based on who I am and how I'm wired, some things just spoke to me more persuasively than others.
Irene Cara's delicacy (those cheekbones!) contrasts with her character's hardness, 
making for a compelling and strong screen presence. Cara went on to win an Oscar, Golden Globe, and a Grammy for co-writing the theme song to Flashdance (1983)
I have to say that the Doris/Garci relationship is my favorite in the film. I didn't expect to like their characters, but the actors bring some remarkable nuances to their performances. Just watch how Miller listens in scenes.
The contentious relationship between English teacher Mrs. Sherwood and Leroy is very nicely played.
Ann Meara really gives the inexperienced Ray a lot to work off of. He's at his best opposite her
As stated, it's not a matter of assigning the label "best" to anyone, but I really liked the performances of Barry Miller and Paul McCrane. McCrane's earnest naturalism redeems what I find lacking in the role as written. Miller went on to win a Tony Award for Biloxi Blues (1985) while McCrane won an Emmy for the TV series Harry's Law (2011) in whose finale he sang the song he wrote and performed in Fame.

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
The music and dancing in Fame is glorious.
Hot Lunch Jam
For sheer percussive energy, you can't beat this number. Cara's vocals slay
I Sing the Body Electric
Each and every time I make a bet with myself that I'm not going to get
waterworks from the graduation finale number. A bet I lose each and every time. 
Fame choreographers Louis Falco (r.) & William Gornel

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
As you can see from the photo above, Fame opened at Hollywood's Cinerama Dome on May 16th, 1980, which is the date I saw it and fell in love. Although I was a big fan of Alan Parker, the only names in the cast familiar to me were Barry Miller (who I thought was as terrific in Saturday Night Fever); Anne Meara (from the comedy duo [Jerry]Stiller & Meara); and most famously, Irene Cara. Fame is credited with launching Cara's career, I remembered her from TV's The Electric Company and Roots, and on the big screen in Sparkle and Aaron Loves Angela.

Pre-release publicity was minimal, so I didn't know what to expect. Try to imagine, on that big Cinerama screen, what it was like to discover all these talented unknowns and hear for the first time those songs that are now almost too-familiar. A thrilling, inspiring film experience from start to finish. And I returned to see Fame many, many times over the summer. I was enthralled and surprisingly moved by it.
I was still attending film school at the time and working full-time at a book store, but within the short window of eight months, the releases of All That Jazz (December -1979), Fame (May -1980) and Xanadu (August-1980) became the dance film trifecta that inspired me to seek a career as a dancer.
The Roland Dupree Dance Academy on 3rd Street in LA is where I took my very first dance class (and eventually taught). Strange to think there was a time I didn't even know what legwarmers were and had to ask someone what a dance belt was (a thong/jock for male dancers); but it's here I studied ballet, tap, jazz, and modern. I wish I could remember when I took this photo, but I attended from 1980 to at least 1984.

As for Fame, one of the main reasons I always get teary-eyed during the film's finale is because in that spectacular display of goosebump-inducing talent (in which the "stars" sung about have nothing to do with celebrity), I'm witness to the dedication and hard work that goes into making something beautiful, not making someone famous.
Copyright © Ken Anderson