No artist — no true artist — must ever be afraid of what other people think of his work. A custard pie comes with the job.
            — from the movie

What does it take to make it in showbiz? Each year thousands of aspiring singers, dancers, musicians, and other artistic youth try to gain entry to New York's famous High School of the Performing Arts. In the opening segment of this visually luxuriant film directed by Alan Parker (Midnight Express, Bugsy Malone), black, white, Puerto Rican, straight, gay, fat, thin, shy, and extroverted teenagers audition before a patient group of teachers. These scenes, which are brilliantly and fluidly edited, put on display the incredible creative energy of youth who are convinced of their own talents.

We then follow eight of the accepted students through three years of their education. They grapple with discipline, praise, disappointment, growth, friendship, love, sex, competition, and initiation into the world of entertainment where there are more failures than successes. As in his two previous movies, director Parker demonstrates a gift for working with youth and drawing out their best performances.

Barry Miller is Ralph, a fast-talking Puerto Rican whose hero is Freddie Prinze and whose hip comic sense hides a painful personal life. Irene Cara plays Coco, an ambitious singer whose longing for fame leads her to the seamy side of showbiz. Gene Anthony Ray is a tough black ghetto youth who dances like a leopard and resists the disciplinary strictures of one of his teachers (Anne Meara in one of her most affecting roles) with every ounce of his being. Maureen Teefy is convincing as a Brookly girl who must free herself from a domineering mother in order to express her artistic sensibilities. Lee Curreri plays a synthesizer enthusiast whose single-minded genius is a source of pride for his taxi cab driving father. Also featured are Paul McCrane as a homosexual acting student, Antonia Franceschi as a rich ballerina, and Laura Dean as a lackadaisical dance student.

Fame is a rambling, emotionally involving, and exuberant movie. Although the film is definitely too long, it contains many moments of cinematic poetry. And for every clich├ęd portrait of teenage anxiety there is a matching character revelation of depth. The soundtrack's mix of classical and pop music bespeaks the jaunty and disarming nature of the film as a whole.