Fame (1980)

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Released 11-Nov-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Class Reunion commentary - Alan Parker (Director)
Featurette-On Location With:Fame
Featurette-Fame Field Trip
Interviews-Cast & Crew-12
Theatrical Trailer-2:50
Awards
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1980
Running Time 128:06
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (60:28) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Alan Parker
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Paul McCrane
Maureen Teefy
Barry Miller
Irene Cara
Lee Curreri
Gene Anthony Ray
Laura Dean
Antonia Franceschi
Anne Meara
Albert Hague
Joanna Merlin
Jim Moody
Debbie Allen
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Michael Gore


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Italian
Dutch
Arabic
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, not just tobacco
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

If they've really got what it takes,
it's going to take everything they've got.

    You may remember Fame, but it's likely that you're remembering the TV series rather than the movie. The TV series ran for about five years, but never reached the dramatic intensity of the movie — it was lighter, frothier, and almost every episode featured a dance number choreographed by Debbie Allen (possibly because she was a producer, sometimes a director, played a major role in the series, ...), somewhat ironic considering she gets a single word of dialogue in this film (Alan Parker considered her too old to play one of the students in the film). Interestingly, Alan Parker doesn't like the TV series (although he does credit it with keeping interest in the film alive), but what he really detests is the theatrical shows, which he thinks have discarded every worthwhile element of the film. He also hates the reissued version of the film, where all the bad language, sex, and drugs were removed, reduced the rating from (US) R to PG.

    This is the original theatrical version of the film, which is the director's (emphatically) preferred cut. It is is about ambition, and the search for fame, in the performing arts. It is not a sugar-coated, happy, happy, instant-success story, either. This is about the hard work, the practice, the pain, and the failures. Fortunately, it is not just about the dark side. There is some fun along the way as well.

    If you do remember this film 23 years after its initial release, chances are that you remember some of the big musical numbers. The interesting part is that this is not a musical. People don't suddenly burst into song and dance without justification in the plot — there's always a pretext, and it is part of the story. Perhaps the least credible is the Hot Lunch Jam number, but even that can be justified. I do love the way one of the early shots of the cafeteria focuses on a sign stating that occupancy by more than 256 people is dangerous. Strangely, there's no sign on the piano pointing out that occupancy by 11 or more dancers is dangerous...

    I was surprised by how familiar some of the images seemed, even after so long a time. And the strangest images, too. The lines of students, two to a piano, all perfectly synchronised. Coco trying to interest Bruno in a band with a line of double basses in the background. Doris and Montgomery in the snow. Doris and that hideous birthday party. Ralph's debut.

    Oh, you haven't seen the film? Oops. Perhaps I should give you an idea what it is about. This film follows a class of students through the Performing Arts High School in New York It starts with the auditions, including some excruciating performances. Then it follows them through freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years (I've never really understood the rationale for those names, but never mind).

    At the real Performing Arts High School (which has a much longer name) they study a number of other arts, including painting. This film concentrates on acting, music, and dance. The eight principal student characters are divided into one musician, four dancers, and three actors. But there are lots of extras, many of whom were drawn from the real school, and from the Harlem School of Music and the Arts; they are convincing, possibly because they have dance students dancing, acting students acting, and music students playing music — clever idea, that. One of the dancers, I noticed, was Meg Tilly (yup, the Meg Tilly we saw in The Big Chill and The Two Jakes). There was one scene I thought might be an optical effect, with what looked like the same girl playing piano, cello, and violin at once (my apologies to Ann Marie, Kerry, and Maureen McDermott — I guess they are sisters, possibly triplets). Alan Parker points out one of the audition students who is now (in real life) a famous couturier.

    The main teacher characters are drama teacher Mr Farrell (Jim Moody — who teaches drama at the real school), music teacher Mr Shorofsky (Albert Hague, who has taught at the real school), dance teacher Miss Berg (Joanna Merlin), and English teacher Mrs Sherwood (Anne Meara).

    Alan Parker explains how he selected the eight principal student characters — he was looking for people who matched the personalities, rather than for actors who could simulate them. This gave him some problems, because he chose a musician without acting experience, and some of the dancers were chosen for their dance skills rather than their acting abilities. He got lucky, though, with his choices. The performances are excellent.

    The script was written by Christopher Gore. His brother Michael Gore wrote the original music, and their sister Lesley Gore (best known for songs like It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To) contributed the lyrics to Out Here On My Own. Quite a family effort.

    This movie plumbs some dark depths, but there are some exhilarating moments, too. And plenty of laughter. It's quite a mix, a rollercoaster ride, but it ends on a high note. Strongly recommended, but don't expect it to be easy to watch — this is no bubblegum movie.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical aspect ratio was 1.85:1.

    The image is nice and clear, with enough softness in the transfer to avoid heavy aliasing, although there's a scene at 77:10 that's distinctly blurry. Shadow detail is generally acceptable, although not outstanding. Film grain is never a problem, and there is no trace of low-level noise. Considering that a lot of the film was shot using available light on location, and the rest was shot using lighting designed to look natural, that's quite an achievement.

    Colour is well-rendered, and there are nice bright colours on occasion, including the neon of Times Square. There are no colour-related artefacts.

    The first time through I didn't see any film artefacts; the second time I noticed a couple of tiny flecks. There is nothing worth reporting.

    There is a little bit of aliasing, but it is very mild, and never distracting. There's no significant moiré, and no noticeable MPEG artefacts. For a film over 20 years old, this is an impressive transfer.

    There are subtitles in five languages, including English, with hearing-impaired captions in both English and Italian. I watched the English captions: they are easy to read, well-timed to the dialogue, and as accurate as usual; I was a little disappointed that they haven't subtitled the songs. As is my wont, I spotted a couple of errors early in the piece, at 5:38: in reference to Bruno's synthesizer the subtitles mention "rotary pods" instead of "rotary pots", and "solitude" rather than "sawtooth".

    The disc is single-sided and RSDL-formatted. The layer change is at 60:28. It's a very good layer change, and invisible on most players because it's placed in a silent moment on a static shot.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The soundtrack is provided in English, French, and Italian. I only listened to the English, which is Dolby Digital 5.1 at 384kbps, but it might as well be 5.0, because there's no LFE information that I noticed. There's also a commentary track, provided in English Dolby Digital 2.0, not surround encoded, at 192kbps.

    The dialogue is clear and comprehensible. There are no audio sync issues.

    Michael Gore provided most of the original music, although Paul McCrane wrote Is It OK If I Call You Mine, the song he performs. There is plenty of other music to be heard too, including snatches of all sorts of classical music. The performances are excellent, and Alan Parker makes a point of telling us that everyone we see playing is really playing.

    The film sound was originally recorded in Dolby Stereo, but has been remixed to 5.1. The surround channels are used for a bit of ambience, and a couple of directional cues that draw too much attention to themselves because they are so rare — don't expect to use this as a surround sound demo. The subwoofer seems to be completely unused (it is not missed, though).

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The menus are simple, with music.

Audio Commentary — director Alan Parker

    This is advertised on the menu as a Class Reunion Commentary, but it must have been a lonely reunion, because the only voice we hear is Alan Parker. The explanation is a bit complex. The Region 1 version of this disc has a cutesy feature, where a Fame logo pops up from time to time, and you can press Enter on the remote to invoke a short video segment. We don't get that feature, but we still get the video segments (see the next extra). I think I prefer our version, because it means you don't have to watch with the remote at the ready, trigger-happy.

    The commentary is interesting, detailed, and thoughtful. This is the Alan Parker of today looking back at the third film he directed, and he has plenty to say. It is well worth listening to.

Interview Gallery

    This is a bit of a misnomer, but I'd have trouble giving it a better name. It's the video clips that aren't available during the commentary (see above). This is better, because we can choose them individually, rather than having to try to hit Enter at the right moment while watching the commentary. They are rather interesting, because we get to see Alan Parker and the actors as they are today (Gene Anthony Ray mentions that he is 40) The clips are:

Featurette—Vintage Featurette: On Location with Fame (11:58)

    This is a short piece shot while they were making Fame. It's a classic piece of promotion, but not horrible viewing, despite the fairly poor quality video and audio.

Featurette—Fame Field Trip (11:01)

    An interesting piece that concentrates on the real Performing Arts High School, which is really called Fiorello H La Guardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. This was shot in 2003, and it is really interesting. We get to see Jim Moody 20 years on, and we hear from the current principal, lots of students, and some of the other students (who are, unsurprisingly, articulate). This is a marvellous extra. It's a bit of a shame that it got into the hands of a video editor who is clearly majoring in MTV clips: for no apparent reason the image will get reversed, go black-and-white, or suddenly be covered in apparent video artefacts; fortunately the audio continues without interference.

Theatrical Trailer (2:50)

    A rare example of a widescreen trailer, and a good one.

Awards

    A list of the major awards the film won: mostly music-related.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This movie was released on DVD in Region 1 recently. The Region 1 disc is quite similar, although I judge the R1 transfer slightly inferior in a few places.

    The big difference between the two lies in the commentary (see my discussion in the extras section) — the Region 1 has this cutesy feature with a pop-up Fame logo so you can press Enter and invoke short video clips. A cute feature, but inconvenient. I like the less fancy but more convenient presentation on this disc. I also wonder if the slightly inferior transfer in places is due to compromising the video quality to permit the interleaving of the other segments.

    The Region 1 disc also has a couple of additional extras that sound more impressive than they are:

    Yeah, you'll really miss those if you choose the Region 4 disc!

    All the other extras are the same on both discs.

    The Region 1 disc is in a snapper case. I expect the Region 4 disc to be in a transparent Amaray.

    My recommendation is to get the Region 4.

Summary

    Fame is a marvellous movie, on a high quality DVD. Not a piece of froth like the TV series, but rather a tale of highs and lows, with some good music and superb dancing.

    The video quality is very good, especially in light of the age of the film.

    The audio quality is very good, but the surrounds aren't used too well.

    The extras are very good, including a good commentary and some insight into where are they now?

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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Comments (Add)
fantastic! - orangecat (my kingdom for a decent bio)
Paul McCrane - wolfgirv