A new set of hopefuls join the New York School for the Performing Arts, including cocky dancers, timid singers, and shy musicians. During their time they face ordeals in school and in trying to secure a future career in showbusiness.
Every word of that applies equally to this very good film and to the not so very good TV show that followed. It's educational to see how the same idea can have two such very different treatments but don't waste your time with the series, just watch this.
For Alan Parker manages to make this a fairly horrible story even while it remains entertaining. You come away from it with all your preconceptions about the glamour of showbusiness wiped away and you can't help but admire the characters who get through.
And that's what makes this good: not everybody succeeds. There's a terrible sense of doom at times as you watch their mistakes and know that there will not be an automatic happy ending.
True, there is a famous high-spirited dance atop New York taxi cabs, which intellectually is a bit weak but tends to feel quite rousing at the time. And a lunch hour that degenerates into an extremely well-played jam session gives this some of the artificial feel that musicals have.
The music is good, especially the finale which features the proud parents coming to see their children in what starts as a simple song but because a great rock ensemble piece.
The treat of the piece, though, is not how much better than the TV show it is, nor how the fun is blended with a gripping bleakness at times. It's in how bizarre it is to see "ER"'s nasty Dr Romano (Paul McCrane) as a young boy. With hair.
"Fame" is part of BBC2's 80s season and will be showing at 10.30pm, Saturday 13th January 2001.