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July 10, 2004


When I'm down and feelin' blue
I close my eyes so I can be with you
Oh, baby, be strong for me
Baby, belong to me
Help me through
Help me need you

-- Irene Cara

The Spousal Unit and I sat down last evening to watch a film I thought I knew. These days as the flags are being raised back up, those that remain at half mast still remind me of points made about America before and after the Reagan Era. Nothing quite symbolized that to me like the themes and subtexts of movies made before the 80s. 'Fame' is one of those films.

There are several extraordinary things about this film which mark it higher in my estimation. What strikes me most about it in retrospect is how clearly it shows the ambition, talent and vulnerabilities of the youth of that period - my generation. It's a film about transition in many ways. As I watch it, a hundred tiny memories come back. NY subways with grafitti, slimline 110 film cameras, the constant dialog about 'junkies', the old Times Square.

Irene Cara's performance of 'Out Here On My Own' is a miracle of strength and tenderness. You could watch American Idol until you die and there will never be another moment like that.

I only saw the last half of the movie and yet it moved me, with its vignettes showing the nuanced emotions of the kids. I cannot think of any contemporary films about youth which so finely captures their spirits as they struggle to become adults and handle the facts of their lives. Instead I see a series of near misses that always get their serious tone from kids learning to respect their elders rather than learning to respect themselves. Heathers, Donnie Darko, The Man Without a Face, Seconhand Lions all miss the mark in that regard. And as I watch a bit more of what my kids watch I am looking for ways to accurately describe the kind of shallowness - what kinds of souls these kids seem to be missing.

The kids of Fame cursed. They raged, but they did so in a way that showed a true spirit, not in the shallow way that contemporary kid actors work at their upbeatness. The character Doris showed how it was OK to be a little bit naive. She had enough heart to handle the demons of Ralph.

Thinking about the kids of Fame makes me consider the notions of 'Zero Tolerance' more closely. Their freedom to rage and to connect with the dangers, of reefer of sex of violence of rebellion, is what grew them or destroyed them. But we got to see them face all of that without parents. They faced full-on the same demons that destroy adults knowing that as artists they would have to channel its effect on them and produce performances of inspiration and hope. It's a lot to put upon any head, it is in fact the challenge of the human condition, and yet there it was. There were no dramatic proxies for those dangers. Coco was in the apartment of the pornographer. I wonder if our advanced parenting skills and our notions of what is appropriate for our kids to experience betrays a fear that they will not be able to understand what is at stake. Is it that, or is it our fear that they will indeed handle what we could not? What corrupts is the inability to resist corruption. It seems to me that you have to face it, eat it, digest it and shit it out to know what evil is. Developing judgement is a risky business but isn't that what youth most necessarily must do?

RIP Gene Anthony Ray

Posted by mbowen at July 10, 2004 08:41 AM

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