Thursday, 16 July 2009

Acceptable in the '80s

Take a good look around. La Roux is at the top of the charts with an album that sounds like it was scraped together from a bunch of Yazoo out-takes. The A-Team, the Smurfs and T.J. Hooker are all being lined up for big-screen reinventions. And Patrick Dempsey is still one of the hottest actors around. It's safe to say that the 80s is no longer the forgotten decade.

The latest relic from the era of head-bands, leg-warmers and Wincey Willis to be hauled back into public consciousness is the ground zero of jazz hands, Fame. Starting out as a surprisingly gritty drama by Alan Parker, the original film followed the endeavours of some of New York's most compelling young talents. And a dull girl with a cello. But thanks to some toe-tapping tunes, energetic performances and a pair of very short shorts (thanks Leroy), the movie was a massive success and even won two Oscars.

Smelling a franchise, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was quick to recruit as many of the movie's unknown cast as possible, and lined up a weekly TV show. Despite being a staggeringly formulaic and amateurish production, it was another smash hit. For a while at least. New song and dance numbers were incorporated into every episode, and the cast regularly took to the road for extensive tours as "The Kids From Fame". Finally, in 1987, the show was cancelled and the cast shuffled off into relative obscurity, before being temporarily dragged out of it for one of Justin Lee Collins' nostalgia-fests on Channel 4.

So now, here we are anticipating Fame for a new generation. The trailer (embedded below for your viewing convenience) seems to tick all the right boxes. An R&B update of the iconic theme song, young people giving it their all with steely determination, and lots and lots of stretching. Unfortunately, what has changed is the context.

Back in 1980, Debbie Allen's voiceover declared "You've got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying ... in sweat." So how is the movie going to work in an era when fame costs nothing? These days, fame is a simple commodity that can be acquired by being born, being hysterical, or sticking a wine bottle up your Jacob's Creek. There's no longer any need to pay in sweat, since any bodily fluids will suffice. Talent has become entirely incidental, and at times seems diametrically opposed to the very concept of celebrity.

Equally, breakthrough success is equated with selling-out. Instead, integrity and genuine creative expression live underground, on self-financed record labels and in independent arthouse movies.

Sadly, the sweetspot where talent and fame do actually converge is a troublesome nexus for many. The entertainment world has lost countless talents decades before their time because the conflicting pressures were just too great. As Irene Cara once sang, "I'm gonna live forever..." but only figuratively speaking.

1 comment:

  1. This was just posted (then deleted) over at Popjustice, but can I just point out that the "dull girl with the cello" did not appear in the movie of Fame. That would be Lori Singer, who only showed up in the TV series.