Sunday, November 21, 2010

Almost Famous

A high-school boy is given the chance to write a story for Rolling Stone Magazine about an up-and-coming rock band as he accompanies it on their concert tour.

Just watched Almost Famous again. The story follows fifteen year old William Miller's experiences as a fledgling writer for Rolling Stone. Is it a coincidence that director Cameron Crowe's career began with writing articles for Rolling Stone when he was fifteen?

SPOILER ALERT: I do not think there are serious spoilers here, but just in case, I am alerting you.

I did not see the film when it first came out and for years I by-passed it when Kate Hudson's youthfully innocent face invited me from the DVD rack at the library. Maybe the cover art led me to think it was something I'd rather not see, but at last I did give it a whirl and allowed myself to warm up to it.

It's a strong cast with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Francis McDormand, Billy Crudup, Jason Lee and Goldie Hawn's gem of a daughter Kate Hudson. For some reason the first time I saw it I thought I'd heard that this was Cameron Crowe's directorial debut. Wrong. He'd already directed the hit Jerry Maguire starring Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. I had also assumed this was Kate Hudson's first feature role, and again... wrong. Almost Famous did, however, put her on the map.

The film won an Oscar for Crowe (Best Writing) and dozens of additional awards. It has many poignant moments, and if I may paraphrase a Willie Nelson line, "Mothers, don't let your sons grow up to be rock stars." Miller's over-protective mom (McDormand) was so keen on keeping rock and roll out of the house that she alienated her daughter who upon departing left all her albums to her younger brother. This formative experience sets up the storyline.

I liked the way McDormand was a college professor and not simply a simpleton mom who didn't know anything about how the world works. Crowe could have written it differently. Then again, without saying so it may be this prof mom's influence that made the youth such a skilled writer that he could produce quality copy for major music rags, first Creem and then Rolling Stone, while still a teen.

An undercurrent in the film is the juxtaposition between the unreality of the rock star lifestyle, its glam, girls, drugs in contradistinction with the "real world" that exists on some other plane.

Speaking of planes the seen on the plane is classic. But I won't go there.

The film is a coming-of-age story not only for the youthful hero-journalist, but also for Penny Lane (Hudson), another of the central characters, the butterfly queen groupie who clearly enjoys the attention and provocation she creates.

One favorite scene for me is when Miller finally gets Russell (the rock star) to sit down for an interview. He begins with these questions:
Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song?
Do you have to be in love to write a love song?

Those are great questions and good fodder for any poet, songwriter or even artist. Can a happy painter paint pictures of sad people? Can a depressed artist paint cheerful women?

The music is great throughout, and Crowe shows that he knows how to assemble a great music score.

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