Hey guys, Stephen here and today I’m reviewing…. ALMOST FAMOUS.
Almost Famous was released in the year 2000 and tells the story of a young music obsessed journalist on tour with a rock and roll band across America in the 70s.
The film was written and directed by Cameron Crowe and is apparently sort of semi-autobiographical as it’s based on some of the experiences he had whilst working as a music journalist.
In his youth he himself was writing for Rolling Stone Magazine and toured with bands such as Led Zeppelin, the Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd. That sounds like a pretty good youth!
Interestingly the film is now being turned into a stage show musical, based on the screenplay almost 20 years after it was released.
Anyway, let’s take a closer look at the story.
The story begins in 1969 in San Diego where we’re introduced to the Miller family; William played by 11 year old Michael Angarano, his sister Anita played by Zooey Deschanel and their slightly overbearing mother Elaine played by Frances McDormand.
William is a bit miffed as he’s just found out he skipped 5th grade as his mother has had him believe he is actually 12, not his actual age of 11.
As Anita leaves home to pursue a career to be stewardess, she tells William to look under his bed, as it’ll set him free.
No, it’s not drugs. She’s left him some vinyl records, including albums from the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Who. The latter of which includes a request to listen with a candle burning to see his future.
William does so, and we never do get to see what the other messages are in the other albums if any, but stick around for the outro to see some possible ideas I’ve come up with.
Anyway, flash forward and it’s 1973. William a little older, now played by Patrick Fugit having been inspired by all of the awesome albums left to him, is a budding music journalist.
After sending out articles from his school newspaper he manages to grab a meeting with rock writer of Cream Magazine, Lester Bangs played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
He’s impressed with his work and sets him out on a paid task to write 1000 words on a Black Sabbath show.
However, he repeatedly fails to get backstage access to the show, even after being coaxed in by the ‘Band Aids’ (definitely not groupies) led by Penny Lane played by Kate Hudson.
Almost at a loss, William manages to get in with the band Stillwater after impressing them with his passion for their music.
William befriends both the band and the band aids, leading him to be invited to follow on with their tour however now with the daunting new task of writing an article for Rolling Stone Magazine, gulp. They do go in a really ace tour bus though. We had a van with a squirrel on it. Moving on.
It’s on the tour that William now dubbed ‘The Enemy’ becomes the unlikeliest of shoulders to lean on as we see the tensions (basically egos) rise between the two main band members, frontman Jeff played by Jason Lee and guitarist Russell, played by Billy Crudup.
All this whilst the complicated relationship between Penny Lane and Russel plays out, as well as William struggling both with his ‘coming of age’ feelings and his need to finish his story.
There’s a lot about this film I really like but I’ll try and keep in quite concise!
I’m not sure if I saw it on release but I have seen it a bunch of times since. I get a really warm family sort of vibe from it as that’s how I suppose I interpret it emotionally.
Along with his mum worryingly calling him throughout the film, which is actually quite funny, William, the Band and the Bands Aids are pretty much a new family all thrown together.
And I suppose it’s easy to see Russell as a father figure or big brother to William, as William holds him in high regard, mainly chasing him for the main interview over say, Jeff the frontman.
But I also see Penny Lane as sort of a big sister which is weird to think about as William obviously has feelings for her but she does kind of have that rebellious attitude his sister had, and that’s what I think sort of attracts him to her, in a different way. Anyway, I just feel these ‘family’ dynamics give the film a real beating heart.
It reminds me of travelling to shows with the bands I’ve been in and although not as extensive as Still Water’s tour, I’ve got some great memories of travelling to places, mostly at service stations at the dead of night feeling like a zombie. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything!
The film is pretty funny too. I found the constant back and forth between William and the Rolling Stone editor quite hilarious, especially with the mock older voice William has to put on so they don’t get onto the fact he’s just a kid. I also love the dated technology reference of them being made up a single page only takes 18 minutes down the phone line!
There’s also a scene near the end where William and the band are on a plane which looks like it’s about to crash. Everyone starts spitting out their real feelings toward each other, good or bad, it’s compelling stuff. It’s still funny though and totally how a family would let loose after a few drinks. But it also reminded me of that Father Ted episode where all the priests were on a plane. That was a fantastic episode.
One other thing I’d like to talk about here is the character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lester Bands. I was a big Philip Seymour Hoffman fan and I think he really seemed to shine in these smaller roles. I loved the parts he played in the Big Lebowski and Magnolia but it’s the character in this film which is my favourite.
I think it’s obviously because he’s a music writer and all that but also because he’s kind of a helping hand or sort of an older brother to William, saying if he ever gets in a jam, to call him, as he always stays up late. I think that character stuck with me, I loved his passion, and although quite cynical he offered great guidance.
I suppose if I had anything slightly negative to say is that the film does feel overly long. It runs at just under 2 hours but does tend to drag a little making it feel much longer. I suppose that’s due to the fact its more drama based rather than action, as in nothing much extraordinary happens in the film to split the middle weight of it up.
There are a couple of weird scenes that I suppose haven’t aged well. One being William losing his virginity. He’s 15 and the Band Aid girls decide to deflower him. I don’t know if you could get away with that kind of thing nowadays and I wonder if that’ll make the stage show.
One other scene I’ll mention is where William goes to see a very seemingly drunk Penny Lane who is obviously upset about Russell. As she passes out in his arms he goes to kiss her saying :I’m about to boldly go where many men have gone before”.
I just find that distasteful and I think the character would be way more respectful in this moment.b This scene does stick out like a sore thumb for me and I really don’t think it gets anymore easier to watch with age.
And while William comes off a little naive here, he’s also pretty creepy. Now it’s possible he think she’s still awake but he is taking total advantage and even mentions that she won’t remember any of this.
There’s no surprise that music takes a huge role in the film, it’s almost constantly playing throughout and what a soundtrack It is too! There are tonnes of amazing artists for the time including David Bowie, Simon & Garfunkel, Black Sabbath, Joni Mitchell. the list goes on.
It even includes multiple Led Zeppelin tracks who’ve always been notably reluctant to lend their music to projects. Apparently after seeing a test screening Jimmy Page and Robert Plant allowed Crowe to use the songs in the film.
There’s a particular moment in the film where after a pretty traumatic event, the band comes together on the tour bus joining in to sing Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. It’s a joyous moment and to be honest, I think that was the first time I actually noticed that song. You know sometimes songs hit you at the right moment and I think that was one of those moments.
For the Stillwater tracks of which 5 were written, Cameron Crowe’s then wife Nancy Wilson co-wrote three of them. Nancy Wilson is also famed for being in the band Hart, but I have to say I’m in love with her work she did on Crowe’s other film Vanilla Sky. But back to this, also involved in writing the Stillwater tracks were Peter Frampton and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready.
Release-wise, the 17-track original compilation release is available on streaming services and you can pick the CD up pretty easily on the likes on Amazon and eBay. The vinyl edition however is a little harder to find as it was produced in limited numbers, so is a little pricey if you do manage to come across it.
Fingers crossed they re-issue it, maybe next year for the 20th anniversary? That also seems to be the only way all of the Stillwater tracks were released apart from ‘Fever Dog’.
We’re also forgetting Nancy Wilson’s original score of which Cameron Crowe actually touched on in his blog where he actually shared one of her tracks ‘Cabin in the Air’. It’s really good, I’ve been listening to it a lot whilst doing the research for this video. Moving on!
To wrap this up then I’ll just say this. Almost Famous is a road trip film with a heart, a great soundtrack and characters that have stayed with me. Go see it if that sounds like your cup of tea.
Buy the film on Amazon – https://amzn.to/2QIjgnG
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