FAME -- Allen, AMC Academy, AMC Skyline, K-by Fine Arts, Landover, Old Town, Roth's Americana, Roth's Tysons, Tenley Circle, White Flint.
There is one staple teen-age problem conspicuously missing from "fame," the best high school movie I have seen: boredom.
The kids in this film suffer from assorted forms of loneliness, sexual doubts, parental clashes, self-rejection, environmental deprivation and just about every other adolescent complaint, but nobody sits around and whines about having nothing to do, and nobody gets into trouble for the sole purpose of creating a pastime. This is because the school is New York City's High School of the Performing Arts, and the kids must show a serious interest in dance, mustic or acting to get in and to stay in.
But Alan Parker has made his visually charming film more than a study of talented and ambitious kids. One does see the difficulties they will have breaking into the arts, and the raw personal problem they share with unartistic teen-agers. But "Fame" goes deeper, into the quintessential problem of youth -- the painful process by which the society's accumulated culture is passed from one generation to the next
It makes the ususual point that the civilization itself -- and the young people's opportunity to participate in it -- is more important than their individual collections of traditional and current growth pains. The story lines about the problems of eight kids are fragmentary and inconclusive because they are subservient to this theme. It doesn't matter how this girl or that boy will deal with being pregnant or gay or sexually exploited or bullied or poor. What is significant is the triumph with which a girl who has beeen continually fretting about the banality of her background, mother, name, looks and personality suddenly declares, "If I don't have have a personality -- so what? I'm an actress!" And the upspoiled beauty with which a victimized girl sings afterwards.
Nor are sympathies weighted, as in other teen-age movies, in favor of the kids. Criticism and even rejection are not shown as destructive forces invented to torture the young, but justified reactions to their work, which they must learn to handle and use. There is a minimum of pity extracted for the girl expelled from ballet class for "not sweating," but it's another refreshing triumph when she capitalizes on her failure to break into the drama department.
The task of imparting knowledge is pictured as at least as fierce a struggle as that of assimilating it. Ther is no real generation gap at this school, because the adults and teen-agers are engaged, from opposite sides, in the same task, and have lost the superficial differences on which age-based antagonisms are usually grounded. They have in common not only their art, but their toughness and ruthlessness, both the surface kind, such as high-school language, and the deeper kine -- artistic discipline.
It is logical, as well as amusing, to hear a little man with untidy gray hair, accent and thick glasses use an obscene image to demand respect for the violin. When the kids go wild, in a melee in the cafeteria and another in the street, there are adults enjoying it with them, because the exuberance is creative, not destructive.
The film is organized by school years, beginning with the excruciating auditions and ending with graduation. Scenes are interwoven to give a wide and extremely attractive view of many activities without seeming jumpy. The acting, some of it by former students of the school, is so good that you can tell when a good actor is acting the part of a good actor acting a part.
The title, however, may be misleading. The kids are indeed seeking fame, but while the popular American dream of becoming a celebrity through the miracle of being "discovered" in Schwav's drug store is present in their vocabulary, it is alien to their approach. Fame, if it comes, will be a result of their artistic growth, and growth is what the film is really about.