No 142 - Almost Famous
Director - Cameron Crowe
Almost Famous has been the 'almost' film for a couple of months. I keep putting it on the shortlist of films I want to watch, but then picking something else. So I decided that I should finally get round to watching it. Anyway, it has also been a long time since I last watched a film with Zooey Deschanel in.
So with those tenuous reasons put into play and the most infernal of hangovers thumping in my brain, I slipped into the warmth and comfort of this beauty of a film.
Almost Famous is not a realistic study of the music scene in the 70s (actually, it might be... I wasn't there, but it doesn't seem it). It is a love letter, purely and simply - and whilst you might think that rock and roll is the key focus of the film, it isn't. This is a film about friendships. The excitement and mystery of new friendship and the pain and reconciliation when old friendships go through rough patches. It is about befriending your heroes and seeing them as human beings. It didn't have to be about rock stars and groupies (sorry band aids), it is about friends.
We follow William Miller, played by the excellent Patrick Fugit (if you can track down Wristcutters: A Love Story - then do so), who is our narrator and our outsider, allowing us to enter an alien world of Rock and Roll. It is all quite immense and overwhelming, but that is ok because our lead is overwhelmed by it all as well.
Whilst this is a world littered with real bands such as Deep Purple and Bowie (all mentioned but never seen) we follow Stillwater, a fictional band, based in part on the real band Stillwater (they play some genuine Stillwater songs) but with none of the characters based on actual Stillwater band members. The band are coming to terms with their new found success and popularity and this film follows their rivalry, ego and jealousy of one another. It is as much about the complicated relationship between Billy Cruddup's guitarist Russell and Jason Lee's front man Jeff as it is about William's coming of age.
William is led through this film by several forces, namely the adoration of the band Stillwater, the help of Music guru Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, as I recently saw The Boat that Rocked, it seems Hoffman is the man of choice for 70s Rock aficionado roles) and the love of Penny Lane.
William's love of Penny Lane is adorable, I personally find her quite irritating. Her flights of fancy and her imposed mystique is not as endearing as the brash and honest floozeyness in the rest of the Band Aids (see the scene where the group decides to deflower William. It shows the honest niceness of the characters, as well as their open sexuality. You can't help but feel a little bit jealous of Patrick Fugit). But for William it is all about Penny, and subsequently this film romanticises the (frequently stupid and naive) things that Penny does.
This brings me nicely to what I want to discuss - magic moments in cinema. Almost Famous is a comfy Sunday film. Despite it dealing with sex, drugs and Rock and Roll, it does so in a very nice and untaxing way. Whilst the whole film rides this wave there are two standalone moments. Moments that give me goosebumps and show the skill and power of Cameron Crowe as a director. The first ties in with the silly things Penny does, and the romanticising of them.
Penny OD's on Quaalude leaving William to call a doctor and watch as she has her stomach pumped. Rather than using this as a harsh lesson against misusing drugs, it is shown in slow motion and almost soft focus. Making the whole spectacle almost ethereal and magical as William watches on with a look of helpless adoration.
It is the moment which sums up and epitomises their relationship, it does so better than words ever could. It is a wonderful piece of cinema. As is Russell's resolution with the band. The second section I wish to discuss.
After a massive falling out with his band, Russell takes William to a house party and subsequently takes far too much acid. The next morning he is brought back onto the tense and silent tourbus, naked, shivering and coming down. Slowly the tourbus unwinds and the group bond through the medium of Tiny Dancer.
Cameron Crowe's use of music is wonderful throughout, but this is just the pivotal moment for the entire film, coupled with my love of early Elton John, this is just the finest moment in the whole film. Watch it. Feel the tension melt away. Feel that tingly moment of joy as the chorus hits in. Gorgeous.
Of course there are the stereotypical trials and tribulations that have to be overcome and the hostility the band shows William at the film's end seems cruel. But it all works out in the end. And whilst William never gets to be with Penny Lane, all other relationships are rectified.
That's whats important. Sometimes the unobtainable woman has to remain unobtainable, and it feels wonderful to see the characters grow and to see a romantic comedy where the guy doesn't get the girl.