Brent Hartinger at After Elton reviews the 2009 version of Fame, which roughly follows the same structure of the original by following a group of students from freshman to senior year.
Well right off the bat, we learn this remake of the 1980 classic gets a big goose egg for fleeing the frank, gritty storylines of the original. How can it be possible that a film made nearly 30 years ago is more honest about a student dealing with his sexual orientation, Montgomery (Paul McCrane)?
More honest as in...there's a gay character at all. Apparently Kevin (Paul McGill) is supposed to be gay but the producers cut the scenes that indicated he is.
But the new version of Fame still has a gay character, right? Not according to Paul McGill... the actor playing the part of Kevin, a student attending the performing arts high school in which much of the movie takes place.
During an exclusive interview with McGill, AfterElton.com asked about Kevin being gay. Said McGill, "Originally, in the original sides, in the original script, he was gay. But it’s not the case anymore. That's not in the movie. That’s false information, actually, that’s on your website."
Was the character gay when he auditioned for the part? "Originally, he was," said McGill, who explained that the character also started out as "campy" and "superficial" but evolved in rewrites so he now has "... the darkest moments in the movie. The most …emotional scenes in the movie."
What is going on here? Given that today's school culture has both violence against LGBT students still prevalent and more youth coming out of the closet, this film provided an excellent vehicle of a subplot. Brent notes that there’s nothing overt in the film to indicate that the character is gay. Here's a clue -- the director, Kevin Tancharoen sees McGill's portrayal of the de-gaying of his character differently.
When asked how audiences would know Kevin was gay, Tancharoen said, "Well, I mean, it’s like, it’s just because it’s clearly obvious. Not saying that he’s flamboyant, but… He just is. I don’t really know how I can define characteristics of a gay person. But I think anyone with an appropriate gaydar can really just know that he is. I mean, I don’t want to say cliché things like, 'Oh, well, he wants to be a ballet dancer,' which means he’s gay. That doesn’t make any sense."
Tancharoen, who grew up in the dancing world, added he believes the movie's low-key approach to Kevin's gayness is a positive thing. "And I actually thought that was quite progressive. And I know I might end up getting a little bit of backlash because I feel like sometimes, if I don’t talk about it enough, then I’ve ignored it. But if I talk about it too much, then I'm being campy and stereotypical."
Maybe that's the issue -- the director, because of his background, makes the assumption that we've reached the point in society that being gay is just a matter-of-fact, accepted thing. Tancharoen needs to get out a bit. Try being a gay student in a small town school where being openly gay can get your head bashed in. It is still almost life-saving to see a piece of world onscreen. I can't tell you how many people I know were deeply affected by and were gratified to see the character of Montgomery in the original.
Now the major problem for Tancharoen is that you can't make a script that includes a poorly written gay character work; that's call for a rewrite, not filming and slicing the crappy stuff out. Nothing about Montgomery was stereotypical in my opinion; you mean to tell me that there are NO writers out there capable of writing a storyline of a gay student's struggle in any way? That's weak. But Tancharoen's lens is so skewed toward the view that "gay is ok" that he truly believes there are no Montgomerys out there in 2009.
They portrayed the gay character as a depressed, tortured, soul that no one loves, and he’s very shy and timid. Well, that’s nothing like the [people] I grew up with. It’s 2009 and that kind of tortured gay, painting that kind of picture is so irrelevant. Especially in New York City. I mean, come on. So I never wanted to shine a light on the homosexuality.
So it's a matter of perspective. Tancharoen's norm is as true as is the perspective of a kid in Topeka, Kansas, who fears coming out to his friends. This is the gay cultural divide in 2009 based on the progress we have made as a community since the original film. Those immersed in open environments can and do forget what life is like where it can be a matter of life and death to be out.
Does Brent Hartinger's review affect whether I will see the new Fame? Honestly, the more I watched the commercials, the more I wanted to pop in my DVD of the 1980 film and see Alan Parker's more honest view of that world. It would be good to hear from younger readers and their thoughts about the new Fame.
Roger Ebert's on Hartinger's wavelength:
"Why bother to remake "Fame" if you don't have clue about why the 1980 movie was special? Why take a touching experience and make it into a shallow exercise? Why begin with a R-rated look at plausible kids with real problems and tame it into a PG-rated after-school special? Why cast actors who are sometimes too old and experienced to play seniors, let alone freshmen?
The new "Fame" is a sad reflection of the new Hollywood, where material is sanitized and dumbed down for a hypothetical teen market that is way too sophisticated for it. It plays like a dinner theater version of the original. That there are some genuinely talented actors in the film doesn't help, because they're given little to build on or work with."