Elizabethtown – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Going to Elizabethtown

Crowe’s new film explores loss from his own life

Cameron Crowe is easy-going and eager to please. And so are his movies. His latest film, “Elizabethtown,” bears a particular resemblance to the writer-director, from the death in the family, the flight attendant and the Kentucky homecoming, through the rental-car-musical-road-trip though the South.

“It’s emotionally autobiographical,” said Crowe, who had previously mined his life as a teenage rock critic for Rolling Stone magazine in “Almost Famous” and as an undercover high school student in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

“The personal stuff for me is the best,” said Crowe during an interview last month. “And this one felt a little raw emotionally. I wanted to capture some stuff, to see if I could get it right. The way it feels to lose a loved one and find a reason to celebrate, oddly enough, as a result of learning who you are.”

“Elizabethtown” stars Orlando Bloom as a failed athletic shoe designer who travels to Kentucky after his father dies to retrieve the body, and encounters a side to the family, his father and himself that he has never known.

“I always thought I’d write about my dad, at some point,” said Crowe, whose late father was from Kentucky. “I didn’t think it would be like this, but it arrived like this. I’d been listening to a lot of Garrison Keillor at the time. I love that simple story that ends on a grace note and you go, ‘Wow, I’m just happy to be alive right now.’ That was the feeling I was chasing.”

Crowe said “the reason to make the movie for me,” was the life-embracing chaos of the character’s homecoming party. “When I went back to Kentucky, that same thing happened to me, and I really wanted to get that scene right,” he said. “There was a party scene in ‘Vanilla Sky’ that I felt like we blew because it didn’t feel like a real gathering. This one, I thought, was an opportunity to tell the truth about what being in the middle of a party would feel like.”

For “Elizabethtown,” Crowe used a hand-held camera and a Robert Altman-like improvisational style. All the cast members have “stuff that they’re talking about and they’re in character,” Crowe said. “I told them, ‘Don’t even think about the camera. It may not even be near you. Just have the party.’ And then there’s somebody in the middle of them shooting film.”

Long time coming

Crowe has made just six films since his 1989 directorial debut “Say Anything . . . “” ‘Almost Famous’ had trouble getting financed,” he said. ” ‘Jerry Maguire,’ oddly enough, wasn’t quite understood by the studio. They had a hard time marketing it so it took a long time to come out.”

And because Ridley Scott “ran a little long” filming “Kingdom of Heaven,” Crowe waited six months for Bloom, best known as the archer in “The Lord of the Rings” films. In the four years between “Elizabethtown” and Crowe’s last film, “Vanilla Sky,” there was “different project that I abandoned. And I almost did the Phil Spector story there for a while.”

“I’ve got to pick up the pace,” Crowe said. One could wonder, however, if whether Crowe’s time management problem isn’t related to the elaborate pop music soundscapes that he crafts for his films. Crowe tries to “marry” music and film “so that neither (is) diminished and both are made more meaningful.” But does “Elizabethtown” have too much music?

“I think we’re right up to the edge,” he said. “I wanted it to be a musical and let some of those songs really play. It’s a great time for music, and nobody is playing it. (Radio) is just mainly playing the same few songs. But if you’re really looking, there’s plenty to be found.”

Same old song

One of the film’s key musical scenes is a road trip through the South taken by Bloom, to the musical accompaniment of a series of mix CDs compiled by Kirsten Dunst, who co-stars as a flight attendant with whom Bloom becomes romantically involved. “I’ve taken that road trip,” said Crowe. Is there anything in the film that isn’t real?

“Yeah, the second-largest farmers market in the world,” featured in the film’s final scene, said Crowe. “And there’s no 60B,” the exit Bloom’s character searches for in vain.

Other than that, the film has the ring of truth. Crowe’s real-life sister was a flight attendant, like Dunst’s character. “Almost Famous” included a flight attendant who was the sister of the main character. Crowe recalls his sister and her flight attendant friends talking about their travels while he was growing up. “They were a community of travelers,” he said. “And, you know, Kirsten’s character is a traveler too, while (Bloom) gets lost crossing the street.”

The self-referential and musical aspects of Crowe’s work — he has creative freedom and final cut — are unique in a Hollywood system that is so formulaic, mechanical and unfeeling that audiences are turning away.

“People always complain that movies are all the same and that ticket buyers are voting and saying, ‘No more,’ ” Crowe said. “And so here is a movie that was made in the system that is unlike most movies made in that system. It’ll be interesting,” he said, “to see what happens.”

Courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Duane Dudek – October 23, 2005