Thursday, 20 February 2014

"Almost Famous – Extended Edition" – A Review Of The 2000 Cameron Crowe Movie On BLU RAY.

"…One Day…You'll Be Cool…"

Californian William Miller is 11 and naked in the school shower when his classmates rip into him about his lack of pubes. He quickly discovers two things  – he needs to grow up fast - and he has a gift for getting out of jams by convoluting the truth (like all the best writers do). And this is before he has to deal with his overbearing potty mother who seems obsessed with him not doing anything - let alone having promiscuous sex and copious amounts of hallucinogenic drugs (what a meanie).

Then one afternoon in hair-curlers and to the backdrop of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” his older sister Anita has finally had enough of 'no' Mum and exits the nest leaving young William a parting gift that will shape his whole life – a carry bag full of vinyl albums under his bed (dialogue above). Inside is – Crosby, Stills & Nash’s self-titled debut from 1969 on Atlantic, The Rolling Stones "Get Your Ya Ya's Out" (1970), Led Zeppelin's "II" (1969), Joni Mitchell's "Blue" (1971) and The Who’s double "Tommy". Lighting a candle as instructed by sis (an early part for the gorgeous Zooey Deschanel) - William puts the needle down on the original 1969 US Decca vinyl of The Who and is transformed…

Written and Directed by Cameron Crowe – “Almost Famous" (2000) is his homage to Rock and a touchstone for suckers like me. I know all the references – all the feelings – all the inexplicably gorgeous women way out of your desert-boots reach. Why – because like so many of my generation – I lived it. And like many of us Crowe also seems to feel that something changed between 1973 and 1975 – Rock 'n' Roll somehow died and got replaced with pomposity and drugs and dumb Rock Stars as Gods who had no answers anymore – corrupted by a hard in their pants and an itch in their arms…

Sporting a fantastically cast ensemble group of actors - soppy-faced Patrick Fugit (as William) does well to keep up with Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk and Frances McDormand. But you also forget just how good Philip Seymour Hoffman was (even then). He plays Rock Critic Lester Bangs with a relish and character accuracy that is astonishing. As he eyes with horrified insider knowledge the naivety of the now 15-year old William hustling for a career in Rock journalism – Lester correctly surmises that the icons William loves so much will eat him up and spit him out a truly sullied being. But the kid is just so damn earnest…so Lester tells him "to be honest and unmerciful…" and hopes he'll survive a tour with rising rock band Stillwater who are supporting Black Sabbath on a US tour. Cue tour bus rides with paperbacks of Ray Bradbury, Circle magazine, sexy girls with long flowing hair boogieing to The Allman Brothers and the most fantastic use of an Elton John song in any movie – ever ("Tiny Dancer" from 1971's "Madman Across The Water"). There follows spaced-out DJs, dodgy promoters, electrified mike stands, trashed hotel rooms, Rolling Stone magazine deadlines, band squabbles and his ever-present mother phoning about drugs every ten minutes (and she’d be right too). There’s even an early but memorable cameo from Modern Family's Eric Stonestreet as Sheldon The Hotel Desk Clerk (he gets about 4 lines)…

The BLU RAY picture quality is lovely (if not unremarkable) throughout and at 1.85:1 aspect ratio – fills the entire screen. Audio is English TrueHD 5.1 while Subtitles include Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, English For The Hard Of Hearing, English, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Korean, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish (Latin American), Thai and Turkish. But the two extras are a major let down – "Love Comes And Goes" features the cast goofing about on sets without any dialogue to camera which is awkward and uninformative (although Nancy Wilson's demo of the rock song "Love Comes And Goes" is great) - while the "Lester Bangs Interview" features the real Creem Magazine writer in archive footage bitching about the vacuous nature of Bryan Ferry and ELP (it's good but last mere minutes - not enough of it).

It should also be noted that this BLU RAY features only the half-hour more 'Extended Cut' of the film (2000 DVD has the original film at 122 minutes). It would have been better to include both versions - but at least the longer 'Director's Cut' does feature material that expands the fictional band’s relationship with their fans and more of William's coming-of-age – and it genuinely adds rather than detracts.

True – the album date lines are a bit screwed about with and careful scrutiny will reveal continuity problems – but none of that stops “Almost Famous” being magical to someone like me. And as you sit there - marvelling at just how truly gorgeous Led Zeppelin’s acoustic “That’s The Way” from “III” is – you’re transported to a time when music could change the world and expand your horizons and record shops were places you stood in shaking with excitement at what new thrill you would find… 

"Now's the time to look again…" Robert Plant sings on that lovely song (Track 3 on Side 2). 
Turns out that even in 1970 - one of Blighty’s best ever singers was right…

PS: Crowe went on to make the equally wonderful music-laden “Elizabethtown” in 2005.

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