Sunday, November 27, 2022

Vital Viewing (Star Student Edition)



Irene Cara never attended the New York City magnet school she helped make famous, the High School of the Performing Arts (since renamed Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art ) but instead a rival institution, the lesser known but equally well-regarded Professional Children's School. The education must have paid off, as the singer-actress-dancer was still in her teens when she was cast as the leading lady in two feature films, Aaron Loves Angela (1975) and Sparkle (1976). Neither one did all that well at the box office (though both now have cult followings), but a flick about that school she didn't attend did, and made her a star, getting her an interview with this one-time mainstay early Saturday afternoon personality:   

OK, now to that movie...

An ensemble film if there ever was one, 1980's Fame depicts all four years, freshman to senior, in the lives of seven teenagers attending the aforementioned High School of the Performing Arts, one student of which is the wildly ambitious Coco Hernandez, played by Cara. This wild ambition is wildly on display in the following promotional film (soon to be called a "music video".) Watch:

Ed Koch's Manhattan, back in the day.

Fame's title song won an Oscar. The movie had another Academy Award-nominated song. It didn't win, obviously, but it's still worth a listen:

Maybe two listens. Three listens. Four, five, six...

OK, I said Irene Cara was an actor as well as a singer. Even though Fame is a drama, I couldn't find any heavy-duty dramatic scenes on YouTube (except for maybe the above clip) but she shows a nice aptitude for comedy in the following segment:


This man begs to differ (watch the film if you don't know what I'm talking about.)


Remember this movie? Irene Cara pays homage in this scene from Fame:  

Upstaged by a distraught girl and a train. That never happened to Gene Kelly.

The success of Fame led to a whole era of urban-centric musicals, including the one above. Now, the plot of Flashdance, in which a full-time steelworker becomes a ballet dancer, has about as much credibility as Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, but Jennifer Beals is very good in the lead role, and, better yet, Irene Cara (not herself seen in the film) got another Top-40 Academy-Award Winning hit song out of it. In the following clip, she sings "Flashdance (What a Feeling)" in a venue not otherwise known for the latest musical offerings of Giorgio Moroder:

I think Jerry may have exceeded his fundraising goal that year.

It's old hat now, but nobody (at least nobody living in white suburbia) had seen anything like breakdancing in 1984 when Irene Cara helped popularize the fancy footwork (and fancy head-, back-, shoulder-, and asswork) with a song. Her last big hit, here's the computer-animated video:

She's a pixels-packing mama.


  1. "I'm gonna live forever."

    Surely Irene Cara will live forever in our minds and hearts, even though the dang reaper saw fit to grab her at age 63 during the Thanksgiving holiday of 2022. Last I read, the cause of death is still undetermined. Do you have an update, Kirk? Irene certainly was a "performer," as she so proudly put it in that interview with Dick Clark. Sweet, charming and likable, she brought supreme confidence, flair, fire and passion to her acting roles and singing performances.

    Error! I'll have you know that Abbott and Costello Go to Mars is based on a true story! Flashdance... what a feeling indeed. In 1983, I was enjoying my second time around as a bachelor. That summer, I saw Flashdance three times on dates with three different women. That's how much i liked the movie and the chemistry between Beals and Nouri. (The bra removal scene and the restaurant lobster scene are both epic.) The fantasy musical film was also my first exposure to the acrobatic flamboyance of breakdancing. I had forgotten about Irene's 1984 "Breakdance" single. I'm sure that video played on the MTV station where I worked in the 80s.

    I'm shocked and upset by Irene's death. I was unaware that she was living down here in my neck of the woods in Largo, Florida. I hope we soon get some answers about what happened to her. She was wonderful, multi-talented star. Thanks for putting together a great reaper report and worthy tribute on short notice. Have a great week, good buddy Kirk!

    1. Wow, Shady! I'll have to do a Jennifer Beals post and dedicated it just to you. Other than Beals and the various musical sequences, another thing about the film that stands out for me is Phil Bruns, the father of the Beal's character's best friend and who was also George Shumway, the title character's father on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Bruns makes anything worth watching.

      I was also a bit unnerved by the news of Irene Cara's demise. If you'll recall, two years ago, shortly after the Jan 6 almost-insurrection, I posted that Fame video on this blog as a way of mocking Fascist dictator-wannabe Donald Trump. I also apologized to Cara for using her in such a way. In fact, I remember watching that video back then and wondering whatever happened to her. I did some research. Her career just waned, and she seemed to accept that. There was no descent into drugs and alcohol. I wonder if it's the same contagious malady that I came down with last December. I survived--the vaccination and booster turned the whole thing into a bad cold--but obviously a lot of people didn't.

  2. Yes, she was so big and bright in the early 80s! Like a comet across the sky!

  3. Lots of talent. I can’t picture her at any other age.

    1. Mitchell, I came across an interview she did when she was about 50. She was a little fuller in the face--aren't we all at that age? --but still very pretty.

  4. I makes you sit up and take notice when someone born well after you dies. 63? She was just a kid.

    1. Mike, I still haven't gotten over Heather O’Rourke's death (she was the little girl in in Poltergeist: "They're here!")

  5. A fitting tribute which I am sure you had not prepared in advance.

    1. Andrew, I would never prepare one of these obits in advance because I'm always hoping against hope that these people will live forever.

  6. Replies
    1. If I may say so, you're better for having known her, Ananka.


In order to keep the hucksters, humbugs, scoundrels, psychos, morons, and last but not least, artificial intelligentsia at bay, I have decided to turn on comment moderation. On the plus side, I've gotten rid of the word verification.