Almost Famous – Amazon UK

The Crowe Road: An Interview with Cameron Crowe

You just can’t begrudge director Cameron Crowe his success. He’s the poster-child for every film or rock journalist or just plain fan who ever thought about dropping the poaching racket for a spot of gamekeeping. Born in 1957, Crowe started out as a journalist for the rock magazines Rolling Stone and Creem while still in high school. He slipped relatively easily from there into screenwriting, penning Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Wild Life and all the films he’s subsequently directed, including Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky, his next collaboration with Tom Cruise.

He makes movies that are touching but never cloying, romantic comedies when the guys just as often don’t get the girls, stories about underdogs who win even when they lose. Each is marked by Crowe’s obvious love for and innovative use of music (see particularly his grunge-scene-set Singles). Each feels personal, such as Jerry Maguire’s mission statement, and yet all are tremendously accessible and entertaining. Not unlike the films of Billy Wilder, about whom Crowe has written a book, Conversations with Wilder.

Almost Famous is Crowe’s most personal film yet. It’s a semi-autobiographical love letter to the 70s rock scene, in which the teen-journalist hero and Crowe stand-in William Miller (Patrick Fugit) goes on the road with fictional up-and-coming (or maybe about-to-split-up) band Stillwater. Miller’s mother, (Frances McDormand) frets and phones and warns him repeatedly not to take drugs. Along the way, he befriends and is bewitched by “band-aid” Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a fellow traveller who scornfully rejects the word “groupie”.

Characteristically funny, sweet-centred and featuring a spot-on 70s look, Almost Famous is a fairy tale with long hair, flares and hallucinogens. However, the story’s debate about journalistic ethics gives it a tart edge. At the heart of this debate is Miller’s mentor, the legendary rock journo Lester Bangs played by the consistently brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman. One of the film’s most memorable scenes has Miller calling Bangs in the middle of the night for advice, only to be gently rebuked for trying to be cool, for trying to befriend the band. Journalists are never supposed to be cool. William expresses his relief Bangs is home. “Of course I’m home,” Bangs replies. “I’m always home. I’m uncool.” It’s a self-deprecating comment you can imagine the modest director himself expressing. contributor Andy Spletzer interviewed Crowe just before the US release of Almost Famous, which opens in the UK on February 9, 2001. What are the difficulties of doing an autobiography versus the freedom of doing a fictional autobiography? What were some of the impulses you had?

Cameron Crowe: The stuff that people have always responded to the most, in the things I’ve made into movies, have been the personal scenes. They just have. I never thought a guy getting caught jerking off would ever end up in a movie. I wrote it, but I never thought it would end up in the movie. I never thought it would get the response that it got when we did Fast Times. Right down the line: the breakup scene in Say Anything, that happened to me. I saw it on TV the other night. It gives me a stomach ache to watch that scene. There’s a part of me that still hurts over that breakup, yet people believed that, and it was one of the things that made your heart break in that movie. Hopefully. So I really thought, before it got too late, I wanted to do this movie that was almost all stuff like that, almost all embarrassingly truthful, and let’s see what that’ll be like.

In reality I looked older than Patrick Fugit looks in the movie, and I was a little different from Patrick, which helped me direct him, I think. I was more of the clown. I would play the prankster character more, which helped me fit in. Patrick plays the observer. And yet the character is not named Cameron Crowe.

Crowe: That would be too weird. That would be just narcissistic. I’m sorry. How would it be different if the character was named Cameron Crowe?

Crowe: Here’s how it would be different: I wouldn’t make the movie. It would be in my drawer. Lester, I thought it was okay to use his real name because I wanted people to know about Lester. You were a rock journalist for seven or eight years, then an author, then a screenwriter, and finally a director. How did you manage that transition?

Crowe: I was cocky enough before writing Fast Times to think, “Oh, well a book is just 10 articles back-to-back.” Bullshit! It’s really not. It’s hard, man. It’s the same way I thought about Singles. Like, Singles could be vignettes! I’m still learning how to write screenplays. It’s really hard. Journalism is still my first voice, so it was fun to do a movie that incorporated my great loves, which is this movie. The movie contains a very affectionate portrait of your mother as a health-conscious control freak who wants to restrict outside influences on her kids so they can grow up free. How does your mom like the movie?

Crowe: She loves it because it’s not shrill. That was the one thing. She read the script and thought she might be coming off shrill. She also wonders if that’s how I seemed to her? I heard her talking to some friends recently, and she said, “Beware what you tell your kids because they might grow up to be directors. You’ll be staring at a big screen and you’ll hear it coming back to you.” So that’s kind of funny to listen to. But she’s pretty happy with it, except she didn’t go barefoot in the house. She’s troubled by the fact that people will think she went barefoot. Which is kind of like saying, “Well, the murder is fine, but you had me commit the murder in a red dress, and I never wear red.” The other interesting thing is that it takes an R-rated subject and puts it in a PG-13 package. I was talking with some friends after a screening and we were wondering what it would have been like if some other director did this story, someone like Oliver Stone.

Crowe: He did. The Doors. I think what you’re suggesting is that it either has the courage or the lack of courage to not be openly corrosive, and to go with the point of view of a 15-year-old that’s somewhat whimsical. Am I right or wrong? Yeah.

Crowe: The answer is that I was there. I was there and Oliver Stone was not. I saw Oliver Stone’s movie, and I thought that is a fan’s glorification. It is what a fan wants to believe about The Doors. Which is cool. My wife loves The Doors movie. We argue about it, which is all you can hope for from movies. The point is, if I made a movie about Vietnam, I’d probably have a lot of killing and death and shit like that, but Oliver Stone did very poetic portraits of Vietnam, as well as violent portraits. The point of all this is, I was there and I saw sexual abuse and I saw TVs going out the window and I saw all that stuff, and I observed enough of what that era really was about to be able to say that the poetry of that era is under-represented. I never got into music because I thought the guy used a mud shark [a live fish used as a sex aid] on a girl in a hotel room. I never got into a song more because I knew a guy was on heroin. What I’ve not seen in the many that tried to capture the rock era is something that waves the flag for fandom, and that’s what I tried to do with this movie. There’s a ton of other movies that give you the other stuff.

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