An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Almost Famous (2000)
- Credit: Archant
Films with re-watch value, movies with character and story will become the classics of the future. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies, both old and new, that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.
Almost Famous; dir: Cameron Crowe; starring: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Pacquin, Fairuza Balk, Zooey Deschanel, Noah Taylor, John Fedevich, Mark Kozelek. Cert: 15 (2000)
After the glossy, showboating of Jerry Maguire with Tom Cruise, Renée Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr., writer-director Cameron Crowe returned to the big screen with Almost Famous, a semi-autobiographical film which was inspired by his youthful exploits as a freelance rock journalist following 70s rock band Stillwater on a tour of the United States as they are about to break into the big time.
It’s a film which lovingly and knowledgably recreates the rock scene of the 1970s and captures both the hedonism and the naiveite of the age. Patrick Fugit stars as the fledgling rock writer who, thanks to his pushy but also over-protective mother, played by the brilliant Frances McDormand, has carved out a burgeoning career as a rock writer contributing to local music mags when he is discovered by rock bible Rolling Stone.
Unaware that Fugit’s William Miller is only 15, they commission him to accompany Stillwater on their first nationwide tour and chronicle the moment when a small town rock band become national superstars.
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This is a film made up of beautifully realised, carefully observed performances which gives the film a warm glow. It is a richly detailed patchwork of characters who combine to breathe life into a bygone age. It has a nostalgic feel but it doesn’t shy away from the uglier moments of fame when a band member gambles away the sexual favours of his girlfriend during a poker match or the moment when an explosion of egos threaten to tear the band apart.
Willliam is adopted by Stillwater’s lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Cruddup) and chief groupie Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) who steer him through the politics of band life. It’s clear that Cameron Crowe is reliving an amazing part of his life when he went on the road with The Allman Brothers just as they were making a name as one America’s leading blues-rock bands.
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This film oozes authenticity from every pore. Nothing is overdone and he doesn’t hold back when he shows his young alter-ego being seduced by the rock’n’roll lifestyle.
Crowe and William’s mentor Lester Bangs, played with wonderful cynicism by Philip Seymour Hoffman, warns him against being drawn in and becoming part of the in-crowd: “You’re not their friend,” he warns the young writer. “We’re uncool. I’ve seen you. You’re not cool. They get the girls, but we’re smart.”
But, it’s easy to see how a young rock journalist may be seduced by life on the road, as Crowe stages a multitude of adrenalin-pumping concert sequences and also captures the breathless, messy vitality of back stage life.
Music plays a huge part in the film and Crowe recruited rock legend Peter Frampton and Heart’s Nancy Wilson to write and record Stillwater’s original songs – six new tracks which sound so convincing that you would swear that they come from some forgotten Led Zeppelin album.
The film radiates an infectious love for the period and its subject. If you decide to spend time with Stillwater opt for Cameron Crowe’s ‘Bootleg’ Director’s Cut which not only gives you more concert performances but digs deeper into the personalities of the band and their group of camp followers, the so-called Band Aides.
Some Director’s Cuts can become indulgent. Here, Cameron Crowe uses the extra time to flesh out not only the leading characters but add depth to the supporting players which then lends extra dimension to the main narrative. It feels that we are being given a window onto a very believable world.
If This Is Spinal Tap is a truthful satire then Almost Famous is an unashamed love letter written with love and honesty. The defining moment for me is the scene on the tour bus with the band and crew all singing along to Elton John’s Tiny Dancer.
It’s a simple scene but it adds so much to the relationships between the band and their followers.