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That Was Fast: Web Series Remix “How to Make It In America” March 25, 2010

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Also filed under: “Things that make me feel old at the age of 25.” How quickly can one create a series riffing off a new HBO show? In a few weeks, apparently.

Smoke DZA, a rapper I’ve never heard of — excuse! This is a film and TV blog! I don’t do music — has crafted a web series called How to Make It in Harlem. Judging from the trailer, which I found thanks to The Rah Rah, it’s basing its concept heavily on HBO’s How to Make It in America. There’s a bit of inevitability to an independent artist taking HBO’s faux-grit and filming in an actually gritty part of town, Harlem (sort of; let’s be real, Neil Patrick Harris lives there).

The trailer’s a pretty faithful remix of the HBO show’s opening credits; same large white fonts, snapshot photo technique. Take a look:

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“V” From Fascists (1983) to Obama (2009) November 24, 2009

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V airs its winter finale tonight before resuming episodes in March 2010.

If you haven’t seen ABC’s V yet, I’ll spoil it for you: the Vs symbolize President Obama. Countless articles have spelled it out: io9, Chicago Tribune, BreitBart, and Entertainment Weekly, among many others, have already foregrounded the debate.

It’s very obvious. In the first episode, we learn that the Visitors bring hope and promise change; they’re all attractive; they have a sleekly designed spaceship (and probably a nice website too); they’ve got young people excited about the movement; they are of peace in a world racked by war; they come at time when we need them most; they’re a global phenomenon; the press is in their pocket; they are God-like and pose a serious threat to Christianity; most obvious of all, they want to bring “universal healthcare” and “clean sustainable energy.” This should all sound painfully obvious, unless you slept through 2008.  What’s the problem, then? Well, underneath it all, the Vs are reptiles who want to eat and destroy us!

There’s just one wrinkle in this theory: V is a series based on a NBC miniseries of the same name written and released during the presidency of conservative icon Ronald Reagan!

If we see V as an anti-Obama series now, what was it back then?

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“The Prisoner:” Then (1967, McGoohan) and Now, (2009, AMC) November 1, 2009

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Prisoner Carton.indd

Number Two: “Let’s make a deal. You cooperate, tell us what we want to know, and this could be a very nice place. You may even be given a position of authority.”

Patrick McGoohan (Number Six): “I will not make any deals with you. I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own.”

Number Two: “Is it?”

Patrick McGoohan (Number Six): “Yes. You won’t hold me.”

From The Prisoner (1967), to watch the full series online for free, visit AMC.com

This exchange hails from the original British series, The Prisoner (1967), in which Patrick McGoohan, playing a character named Number Six, finds himself imprisoned in an old-style village. The opening sequence of the series has him driving around London in a fast car, driving up to his employer’s desk and slapping down a letter of resignation. He has been brought to this presumably secluded village because he has valuable information — what this information is, we don’t know. We also don’t know McGoohan’s occupation. All we know is that he’s trapped because he’s left his job, and he wants to leave.

(When the original series premiered, many viewers assumed, and perhaps were meant to assume, that McGoohan’s character was John Drake, whom he played in another British import, Danger Man (Secret Agent). This, however, was left ambiguous in The Prisoner, though American media magazines like Time and TV Guide stated the two were one in the same.)

Who is the prisoner? Who are his captors? What information does he hold? Will he ever be free? Now that AMC is remaking The Prisoner, viewers will have another chance to find out. Though, of course, they won’t. Nevertheless, in the age of Lost and Flash Forward, the remake of The Prisoner may be right on time, instead of light years ahead of it, as it was in 1967. (more…)

Fame (1980), Fame (2009), and Fame! June 3, 2009

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The poster for the new Fame, a blatant rip off of Apple's iPod ads

The poster for the new Fame (2009), a shameless rip off of Apple's iPod ads

UPDATE (2/12): Click here for a post with comments from Barry Miller, who played Ralph Darcy in the original film. He very much dislikes the remake!

UPDATE (9/27): Opening weekend box office numbers are soft at around $10 million (estimated). The LATimes also reports Fame‘s CinemaScore numbers are low  (B-) signaling it won’t get good word of mouth. BoxOfficeMojo has the production budget at $18 million, so it seems possible it’ll break even, but who knows how much its extensive marketing campaign cost. Over at Ronebreak, I speculate the film’s PG-rating had something to do with its poor performance.

UPDATE (9/25): Reviews are in. They’re mediocre, which is to be expected.

UPDATE (9/24): Weird Fame controversy. Apparently the actor playing Montgomery — Fame (1980)’s gay character — thinks his character isn’t gay. AfterElton called up director Tancharoen (who’s 25!) and asked, and Tancharoen said he’s gay, but that there’s nothing in the film to suggest that (no love interest, or sexual quip). He just is. Is Fame (2009) a regression from the original?

UPDATE (9/21): In a rather smart marketing move, Fame is now releasing commercials featuring individual characters (I saw mine on Gossip Girl, the perfect show to broadcast them). As I show below, this further emphasizes the role of “personality” in fame culture today. It also sets up the movie as more character- than plot-driven (same as the original).

UPDATE (9/13): The song “Fame” has indeed been remixed and remade for the Milennials. The new song shines a spotlight on two of the film’s leads, a Naturi Naughton (singer) and Collins Pennie (rapper).

UPDATE (8/10): The MGM publicity machine has started churning and the studio has released exclusive photos to AOL Black Voices.

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ORIGINAL POST: I’d rather not divulge the secrets of my stats, but I’m shocked at the random popularity of one of my posts! The post, where I review a few unrelated movies I saw in one week last year, has been viewed about four times as often as the next popular post on this blog, the one about 30 Rock. As much as I’d like to think people want to read my opinion on Jacques Tati’s Play Time and Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, I know the real reason: Fame.

Not in recent memory has a movie remake seemed so canny and appropriate as the remake of Fame, set for release in theaters Friday September 25th. The original Fame (1980; dir. Alan Parker; written: Christopher Gore) is a vibrant, dark depiction of the post-Boomer generation, living amidst the remnants of de-industrialization and the heights of American media power. It’s about 1970s New York — drugs and pornography — dirty and glamorous. The students try to “make it” but are consistently faced with the realities of life and the industry, and many fall under the weight of their own pressure. It’s a gritty movie, but a successful one. Since then it has become a long-lasting television show and musical. The original actors, sadly, have not been so lucky: none have really become famous.

The older Fame is a much darker movie compared to most teen flicks today.

The older Fame (1980) is a much darker movie compared to most teen flicks today.

FAME 2.0

The new Fame (2009, dir. Kevin Tancharoen) comes out nearly thirty years later and skips Gen X to grapple with the children of the post-Boomer generation: the Milennials! In true Milennial fashion, the remake appears to be glitzy and optimistic, like other young-at-heart remakes released this year and like the Apple ads is blatantly rips off for its poster. Fame (2009) seems it will bypass most of the rough stuff and focus on the achieving success part. Unlike the previous Fame, in which really no one is successful in the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if in the remake at least one character gets a record deal/movie deal/dance contract. How do I know? Consider the writers of the new Fame are best known for frothy — and delicious — romantic comedies like Devil Wears Prada, Laws of Attraction and 27 Dresses (Aline Brosh McKenna) and Feast of Love (Allison Burnett). Dance movies today moreover — from Save the Last Dance (and 2), Center Stage to Step Up (and 2) and Stomp the Yard — are more about overcoming minor obstacles like self-confidence and hang-ups over class/socioeconomic status than about drugs and sexual abuse. So Fame 2009  I expect will be a fun movie, not a serious one, and already boasts some great comic actors: Kelsey Grammar, Bebe Neuwirth and Megan Mullally chief among them.

INFLUENCE OF REALITY TELEVISION

It’s no surprise the director of the new Fame made his name filming a short-lived reality show about dancers for MTV, of all networks, mother of the reality show and perennial home to fame-seekers. Why does the choice of director make sense? While the stars of reality television are the most desiring of fame, more to the point young people today experience and understand fame through reality television. MTV knew this when it inaugurated its new-ish reality show, Taking the Stage, about a performing arts high school (hello, Fame-much?). Months ago, it made perfect sense when Fame 2009 came out with a reality-TV-like featurette about the cast of the new film. Introducing the film as if it was a TV show, it makes it seem like you aren’t so much going to the movies as spending time on your couch watching a few interesting characters for just a few hours. It’s smart to take this approach to filmmaking and marketing. It’s cheap, as I like to see, and very much of-the-moment. The specter of reality television, from American Idol to The Apprentice, hovers over the new Fame, in which talent, one-upmanship and most of all personality become the key ingredients for fame and notoriety.

“Personality” is a key ingredient. Both traditional celebrities and reality TV stars build their mass appeal on their personal characteristics. Young people today understand that revealing oneself, in a measured and classy way, is key to achieving fame. This is what The Hills and The City is all about: “be you” and you will be famous.

“PERSONALITY” AND FAME: MILENNIALS, NARCISSISM and THE AMERICAN DREAM

How else can you understand YouTube and MySpace? I heard it all the time when I interviewed performers on YouTube: people talk about “expressing their personality” as the truest way to attain and retain viewers. Far from being emblematic of a kind of generational narcissism, as sociologist Jean Twenge has argued consistently and convincingly, I think it’s much more complex than that.

The new Fame's website asks users to create profiles, a smart marketing ploy in more ways than one.

The new Fame's website asks users to create profiles, a smart marketing ploy in more ways than one.

Today parents do tell their children too often that they are special and they can be whatever they want to be — this is particularly true of middle class families. This encourages kids to seek their dreams even at the expense of talent and practicality (hence the American Idol auditions). This is narcissism, of course. But it’s simply an exaggerated form of what all Americans believe: they will achieve the American dream, a house on the hill and all that. We believe in ourselves because, for many people, the government gives us little support. Sure there are families and churches, but none of that is financial. This theory of neoliberalism has been well articulated by scholars like Anthony Giddens so I’m not going to try to do better.

So I agree with social networking scholar danah boyd on fame and narcissism as it relates to MySpace. MySpace, the obsession with reality television, self-branding and all the ways in which young people focus on self-production and self-improvement are symptomatic and larger American issues, in which the realities of class and inequality are obscured by the success of a few, special — and especially personable — individuals.

You can see what I mean when I say Fame 2009 is particularly canny. It manages to incorporate the aesthetics of reality television, celebrity and Internet culture into a bright, optimistic and particularly Milennialistic package. Don’t believe me? Consider that the film’s website — yes, it’s called Generation Fame — asked young people to submit social networking profiles for a chance to “join the wall of fame” and also win cool prizes. (Yes, you can bet your house it’s soliciting information for marketing). And it comes out in theaters in September, at the beginning of the school year when hopes are high and everyone truly believes they will make it.

Pat yourself on the back, Hollywood, this one looks very well-played!

Movie TrailersMovies Blog

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FAME (1980)

CAST (via IMDB.com)


Eddie Barth Angelo
Irene Cara Coco
Lee Curreri Bruno
Laura Dean Lisa
Antonia Franceschi Hilary
Boyd Gaines Michael
Albert Hague Shorofsky
Tresa Hughes Mrs. Finsecker
Steve Inwood François Lafete
Paul McCrane Montgomery
Anne Meara Mrs. Sherwood
Joanna Merlin Miss Berg
Barry Miller Ralph
Jim Moody Farrell
Gene Anthony Ray Leroy
Maureen Teefy Doris
Debbie Allen Lydia

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FAME (2009)

CAST (via IMDB.com):

Naturi Naughton Denise
Anna Maria Perez de Tagle Joy
Kelsey Grammer Joel Cranston
Kay Panabaker Jenny
Megan Mullally Fran Rowan
Bebe Neuwirth Lynn Kraft
Charles S. Dutton Alvin Dowd
Kherington Payne Alice
Debbie Allen Principal Simms
Walter Perez Victor Taveras
Paul McGill Kevin
Paul Iacono Neil Baczynsky
Asher Book Marco
Collins Pennie Malik
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