ALMOST FAMOUS (2000) - Directed and Written by Cameron Crowe
Rock ‘n’ Roll meets Rock Journalism: The band Stillwater seduces the kid reporter William, aka “the Enemy” (Patrick Fugit). The groupies seduce him too. The rock scene seduces him as well while he tours with the band to get an interview for Rolling Stone magazine.
The entire rock gamut and stereotypical things like drugs and sex do appear in this film. But what separates this film from a cheesy rock film is the poetry and meaning that drugs, sex and rock music carry. Drugs, sex and music are seductive to the characters and us, the audience. Still, it’s this temptation to the drugs, sex and rock that drives the characters. The right and wrongs of these elements develops each character throughout the story.
This goes for music too. Music is not a soundtrack in this film. Music is a character in this film. It’s talked about. It motivates the characters’ actions. Its appearance holds key plot points. Its tempos and emotions change with the characters throughout the film. It runs parallel to the story. Music’s face morphs depending on who succeeds or precedes it’s sound. Almost Famous is probably the first film to literally personify Rock ‘n’ Roll as a character. In Almost Famous, when you hear music, you know it arrived in the scene like the presence of an actor. Music speaks to us and the characters with profound melodic insight. It’s dialogue drives the plot.
Almost Famous breaks away from some of the stereotypical rock issues. For instance, it’s anti-groupies. Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) explains, “We are not Groupies. Groupies sleep with rockstars because they want to be near someone famous. We are here because of the music, we inspire the music. We are Band Aids.” Pardon me Penny Lane, i mean Band Aids! The film is “honest and unmerciful”. It’s a historical piece which reveals rock music of the 70’s and the impact it had on culture. Although confined to the 70‘s, the life lessons are timeless. The characters are well rounded and accurate in terms of what they contribute to the story.
Again, Almost Famous is about the Music! It’s about the critics, the creatives, the audience, the substance of music. Music links life and creates it. There’s a line in the movie which Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) lead singer of Stillwater tells William in an interview that strikes a chord to echo the film. Russell tells William whom he calls “the Enemy”, that “Rock ‘n’ Roll is gonna save the world.” Later Russell denies this line wholeheartedly, like Peter denied Jesus. But somehow, you always believe that rock music will save the world.
i think Almost Famous indirectly inspires artists to pursue their passion thus impact culture. This is one reason i love it!
Almost Famous has one of my favorite montages among my favorite films. It’s short in time, and is a musical montage in which Zooey Deshanel gives her vinyl albums to her younger brother before she abandons her home. The following scene is one of discovery of rock music. The younger brother, William, flips through the album covers. i’m man enough to admit that i always become emotional in this scene. i ended up doing this with my brother when i left home. i told him he could have all my cds. Nirvana, The Who, The White Stripes, Bob Dylan were among those artists/albums i gave to him.
This montage wraps up beautifully when The Who’s song “Sparks” swells up. This scene got me into listening to The Who. Matter of fact, this film introduced me to Davie Bowie’s albums too! Before this, i only listened to Bowie’s best of songs and not albums. This film changed all that. i have to say that Almost Famous redirected the way i listen to music. After this film, i began to appreciate albums from beginning to end. At least i gave acute attention to those albums recorded before my lifetime. And i realized that those artists didn’t write songs - they wrote albums!
Anyway, like William, i too became seduced by the incredible characters in the screenplay. Matter of fact, this screenplay won the 2000 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. i want to brag that after i saw this film for the first time, i said to myself, “This is going to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.” And it did! It was the first and only time my prediction was true right after an initial viewing. But the story and characters were just so outstanding, there couldn’t have been another choice. Almost Famous beat other nominees:The Gladiator, Erin Brockovich, Billy Elliot, and You Can Count on Me.
So, i watched this film 3 times in a day at the movie theater!! i watched it by myself, then with Dan Braun, then with Dustin Ruth. These guys were my roommates at the time this film was released. i suckered them into going with me because i thought it would add value to their lives and more to mine. At this time, i was into motivational films like American Movie (which i saw 20 times in 4 months) and The Big Lebowski. Overall, i was into movies with inspirational themes.
Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the art philosopher of the film. He’s the guy i relate too!! i hate to admit it, but i even agree with Lester on some level when he describes rock legend Jim Morrison as a “drunken buffoon posing as a poet”. i’m a huge DOORS fan or should i say Band Aid. But Hoffman’s performance is so strong that his delivery of that line has me agree with him. Most of Lester Bangs’ dialogue is analytical and a defense on the “uncool” guys of the world. So my empathy towards his “uncool” status is probably why i agree with his view on art on some level.
i leave you with a quote from Lester: “Music, you now, true music - not just rock n roll - it chooses you. It lives in your car, or alone listening to your headphones, you know, with the cast scenic bridges and angelic choirs in your brain. It’s a place apart from the vast, benign lap of America.”