Director: Kevin Tancharoen Release Date: 25 September Review by Jack Burton You don’t need to get that far into this contemporary rehash of Fame before you’re hit by an overwhelming sense that you’ve arrived at a party just as everyone else is leaving. Unlike Alan Parker’s 1980 original, one of a handful of early 80s films that pre-empted both our current obsession with the internal workings of celebrity culture and the ability to build Disney-style synergy around the unlikeliest of source material, the new Fame feels desperately familiar. Not to mention bland. So very bland. The film does borrow the structure of the original. We follow the ups and downs of a group of wide-eyed, young hopefuls through fours years at the fictional New York Academy of Performing Arts, from the audition process through to graduation. Parker’s film made a virtue of its episodic structure, using each school year to develop narrative strands within a realistic time-scale in which friendships, romantic relationships and careers developed over years instead of months. It takes four years for shy Doris to ‘find herself’ and, even at the end, you get the sense that this is an unfinished project. This kind of narrative ambiguity is not welcome in the twenty-first century Fame and adopting the same structure as the first film serves merely to demonstrate how little characters and plotlines develop across the years. Unlike Doris, who mutates from gingham-sporting puppet for her mother’s ambition to bohemian artist, Jenny (Kay Panabaker) arrives at NYPA the kind of heartbreakingly beautiful yet cripplingly self-conscious girl you only find in musicals. Her relationship with ultra-bland Marco (Asher Payne) brings her out of her shell just enough that their relationship can hit one tasteful snag, before ironing itself out before the closing credits. And here we get to the nub of the problem. Parker may well have chosen Fame as his title but that was not, in fact, his real subject. His real subjects turned out to be art and failure and we are presented with examples of both throughout his version. Leroy, an African-American dance student, struggles with the difficulties of both illiteracy and tights-wearing in the ghetto. At the other end of the spectrum, society ballerina Lisa tearfully justifies an abortion as life has so much to offer her that there’s simply ‘no room for a baby’. In the new, sanitised Fame, conflicts are neither so real nor so raw. Malik (Collins Pennie) wants to use the reservoir of anger resulting from the gang-related death of his sister to fuel both his rapping and his acting. But it’s hard to see what he’s so angry about when his unsupportive mother disappears from the film after a single scene and a tense record company meeting resolutely fails to lead to the breakdown of his musical dreams. A lack of parental pressure would be a blessing for both character and audience in the case of Denise (Naturi Naughton). Groomed by her father to become a concert pianist, her exceptional voice allows her the enviable agony of deciding exactly which type of diva she wishes to be. The moment when she reveals her choice to her disapproving father is a scene so incredibly poorly handled as to actually inspire anger. But terrible performances and stilted dialogue are not the only reason it should grate. The sex, drugs and swearing that resulted from the grubby side of the fame game in the original film have been replaced, throughout, by the sort of non-conflict so beloved of bland, teen-driven musicals. There is a scene in the original when Coco (Irene Cara) is lured to a dodgy director’s apartment and winds up tearfully exposing her breasts to camera. In the new Fame characters cry because they have been offered a recurring character on Sesame Street. The narrative isn’t the only thing that has been bleached clean. Whereas the original interspersed scenes of school life with the street life of a grubby, late 1970s New York, the new Fame could take place anywhere. The city is shot as if for a tourist information video while the song and dance sequences are treated as individual, youtube friendly music videos soundtracked by over-produced reworkings of the original songs. Parker’s Fame pointed a camera at artists rehearsing and improving, making explicit the sweat and hardwork needed to succeed it in the performing arts. As befits our celebrity-obsessed culture, in which fame is the end in itself and more easily achieved by appearing mildly retarded on an X-Factor audition than rehearsing and training for years in the face of potential failure, this new version represents fame as an all to familiar fantasy. In 2009, fame is achieved by god-given talent and ‘believing in yourself’ rather than hard work and dumb luck. It’ll be a hit of course. With a hit film and TV series, an iconic theme song and a long-running musical under its belt the Fame brand has built up the sort of loyalty that can guarantee bums on seats. These established fans don’t appear to be enough for the makers of this new version, however. They seem, instead, to be hoping that this bland, teen-friendly concoction will provide somewhere for those who have graduated from High School Musical to continue their education in over-produced, one-note pap. At the beginning of the screening I attended, the excitable cheering of the predominantly female audience suggested they may have succeeded. The more muted atmosphere as the final credits rolled suggested that even this target audience may be ready for something a bit more substantial. Which, as it turns out, is precisely what Alan Parker provided thirty years ago. Rating: 2/10