Almost Famous, 2000
Directed & Written by Cameron Crowe
Starring Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Patrick Fugit, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Zooey Deschanel
Since 1982, moviegoers have been treated to some fantastic movies. A number of those screenplays have been typed by the hands of Cameron Crowe. Hundreds of thousands of words working from his mind, through his fingers and onto the page, but to me, the greatest words he has ever typed are, “I read the e-mail and I agree with Steven’s research…”
It was in an email to a family friend of mine who was helping me out with a grad school question. She reached out to the prolific Crowe for extra advice, which he happily provided. To know my name, in reference to me, went from that mind through those fingers and onto a screen nearly stopped my heart. The same mind who wrote such films as Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Almost Famous had advice for me.
I’m gushing, but it was a pretty awesome moment. One of the aforementioned movies by Crowe, Almost Famous, had its own impact on not only me many others including the Academy who felt it deserved the 2001 Best Original Screenplay award. The film was released 15 years ago in September, but the movie itself and the music and culture that it depicts will stand up for years to come.
Set in the early 1970s when music was helping shape a generation, a young boy, William, is set to write an article on Black Sabbath. While working to get backstage he meets (the fictional) Stillwater, another burgeoning band of the time.
William convinces Rolling Stone to assign him a piece on Stillwater and thus begins his time traveling with the band for what turns out to be a cover feature story.
Kate Hudson plays a brilliant groupie named Penny Lane while the late Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lester Bangs, a jaded rock journalist who does his best to keep William grounded throughout his time with the band. Bangs gives William the best advice he can, “My advice to you. I know you think those guys are your friends. You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.”
William is with the band for the highs and the lows and in the end, the article that he writes is the most honest piece of journalism.
From a film standpoint, the movie is extremely well shot. You are taken back to 1973 and know what it is like to be a rock star in that era… not as big as some of the major musicians whose music is featured in the movie, but who’s squabbling about semantics.
Both the film’s soundtrack, which won a Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media*, and the music featured in the film are second to none.
Led Zeppelin, The Who, Black Sabbath, The Stooges, Deep Purple and Elton John all find their music featured throughout the film. The movie is as much a movie about music as it is a showcase for the great music that has recently been replaced with music and bands that fail to have the lasting power as these great names had.
Along with the famous names we know, Stillwater’s album (although there is a real band from the ‘70s named Stillwater, they have no relation. All of the fictional Stillwater’s music was original to the film) is pretty damn good.
The album features songs like “Fever Dog,” and “Love Thing,” which were written by Nancy Wilson. As a whole, it rocks. I can remember listening to it in my dorm room during my freshman year of college with a good friend. It has definite Zeppelin inspirations with Allman Brothers sounds sprinkled in.
This movie easily finds itself in my Top 5 films of all time. There is no doubt that I will revisit it many more times in the coming years while I work my way through graduate school and try to write a movie half as good as this.
*Which also wins the award for longest damn award name.
Steve Pipps is a Chicago-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Step On magazine. He enjoys writing for both the screen and TV. Follow him on Twitter or check out his website. Steve recently wrote a review of High Fidelity, another iconic music in our ongoing review of films and their music that changed our lives.