Almost Famous

I fucking love this film. I really do. And for a number of reasons. Not only is it a fundamentally great film, but there’s also a few things – themes, scenes, ideals – communicated within the flick that run parallel to aspects of my own life. And then there’s the nostalgia factor…

I first saw Almost Famous when I was around the same age as William Miller, the film’s protagonist and projection of writer/director Cameron Crowe’s teenage self. Here was a kid who never fully recovered from his own musical awakening, who lost himself in the bands, singers and musicians who inspired him, and in one sense or another, saved him. This was a socially awkward kid who would much sooner live vicariously through the rock stars he’d write about than form relationships with the kids who didn’t understand him. And I could relate. Shit, I still can.

There’s a scene at the beginning of the film that mirrored something I’d recently experienced myself so uncannily, I could have sworn it was written for me (and I suspect I’m not the only one who felt that way). There’s a scene where Miller inherits his sister’s record collection, and as he’s rifling through these strange album covers, eyes wide with wonderment, there’s an almost palpable sense of discovery, you can almost feel the trajectory of this kid’s life irrevocably changing for the better. Hendrix, Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Cream, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, the Who – it’s a whole new world. A few weeks before I watched this scene for the first time, I’d retreated to the back of the house with my mother’s old record player and record collection and set about my own journey of discovery. Hendrix, Zeppelin, the Who, the Beatles, the ‘Stones, U2, Neil Young, Elton John – it was a whole new world…

I can also relate to Miller’s aspirations. Becoming a rock journalist is something I’ve always wanted to do and finally, at the grand old age of 26, I’m slowly working towards that goal, undertaking a Journalism degree and (maybe) covering the local music scene for a local magazine.

Then there’s that nostalgia factor. Watching the film today evokes a sense of nostalgia that is nearly impossible to extricate from its core (and really, why would anyone want it any other way?). Not only does it take me back to my own teenage years where music was such a driving force, but it also conveys this blissfully endearing caricature of the seventies that makes me envious of anyone who was around to experience the era first-hand. Almost Famous paints a picture of a time and place where teenagers inherited the Earth, where music was currency and musicians were God, where school was little more than a quaint distraction from the novelties of sex and drugs and teenage rebellion, and the road was the most exciting place anyone could ever hope to find themselves. The road was what connected it all – the gigs, the parties, the hotels, the record stores, the people. Sure, it’s revisionist history filtered through a rose-tinted looking-glass but who cares? This is a film and a place to get lost in.

But even divorced from what it means to me personally, Almost Famous is a film that can’t help but shine. Everything about it teeters on the edge of perfection. The story is refreshing and unique, coloured by an honesty and truth that endures, even in the face of the film’s idealised setting. The soundtrack is an embarrassment of riches –  Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”; Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”; the Who’s “Baba O’ Reilly”; Thunderclap Newman’s “Something In The Air”; Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer”; Joni Mitchell’s “River”; the Stooges’ “Search & Destroy”; Brenton Wood’s “The Oogum Boogum Song”; Nancy Wilson’s perfectly understated original score (that criminally, is yet to be commercial released or even bootlegged) – it’s a celebration of music from the sixties and seventies and it’s unremittingly brilliant. The characters that inhabit the film’s world are arguably its finest creations. The naiveté of William Miller, the enigma of Penny Lane, the outspoken beacon of cool that was Lester Bangs – the film does such a good job of fleshing out these characters, giving them purpose as well as presence, that you’d swear they were real people (and perhaps not too surprisingly, some of them were).

I don’t think I could fault Almost Famous if I wanted to. At all. Just as there is music that is said to be good for the soul, there is surely also cinema. Almost Famous is such cinema.

Bob Russell

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