Almost Famous – Associated Press

Cameron Crowe’s Rocking with Almost Famous

San Diego: Cameron Crowe’s movies are deeply personal, with alter egos played by the likes of John Cusack and Tom Cruise dramatizing facets of the writer-director’s own character.

With Almost Famous, Crowe’s first film since Jerry Maguire, he lays it all bare: his fractious family history, his teenage days as a goggle-eyed music journalist, even the sweetly lurid tale of how he lost his virginity.

Almost Famous fictionalizes Crowe’s precocious entry – at 15 – writing rock ‘n roll for Rolling Stone magazine. But the fiction is marginal, presenting a composite rock tour and a make-believe band as backdrop for events Crowe says really happened.

“It’s mostly my experiences just kind of put in the Cuisinart and spun around, given some different dramatic form,” Crowe, 43, said during an interview in his hometown of San Diego, where much of Almost Famous is set.

Crowe says he borrowed lines once spoken by his own mother (played by Frances McDormand), including her quip that “adolescence is a marketing tool.” He details a generational split between his mother and his sister. He creates the fictional ’70s band Stillwater, whose leader is played by Billy Crudup, to provide a glimpse of the rock scene he witnessed while profiling Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Crosby, Stills and Nash and other acts.

While travelling with Stillwater, Crowe’s Almost Famous stand-in William Miller (newcomer Patrick Fugit) loses his virginity to three “band aids” – young rock devotees accompanying the group. It’s virtually the same scene Crowe underwent himself, he said, right down to the Steely Dan song playing on television at the time.

“When we were filming, he wouldn’t come out and say it really happened,” Fugit said. “But when we were filming the scene with the three girls, I wanted to say, ‘Cameron, are you bragging?”‘

Most people would shy away from such personal revelations. But Crowe said the film had been itching to come out even as he was writing his directorial debut, the acclaimed teen romance Say Anything, in the late 1980s. Crowe previously wrote the screenplay for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, based on his book.

Crowe always viewed his ’70s rock film as his “next movie,” but kept putting it off because he could not hit on the right approach for such a personal story.

“I tried many different ways,” Crowe said. “It’s the easiest thing in the world to give up on. It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, it’s never doing to work. I always liked Hawaii Five-O. Maybe I can do a movie about Hawaii Five-O instead.’ You just pingpong into the most non-personal of ideas.”

After Say Anything, which starred Cusack, Crowe went on to the romantic comedy Singles and then Jerry Maguire, which earned Oscar nominations for Cruise, Crowe’s screenplay and for best picture.

Both films were personal matters for Crowe: Singles, for his interest in Seattle’s music scene, and Jerry Maguire, a take on Crowe’s sense of abandonment by friends and associates who were disappointed with Singles.

In Jerry Maguire, Cruise plays a sports agent shunned by colleagues and athletes when he begins to question his wheeling-and-dealing lifestyle.

“I did feel abandoned by a lot of my friends,” Crowe said. “I actually had some of those experiences Jerry Maguire goes through where people suddenly don’t return his phone calls.”

The success of Jerry Maguire opened new opportunities for Crowe, who was offered more big-studio, big-star films. But he decided it was time for his own story.

Crowe took some time out to do the recently published Conversations With Wilder, a collection of interviews with legendary director Billy Wilder. Then he launched himself into Almost Famous.

The movie is heavy on musical nostalgia, featuring winsome scenes set to Simon and Garfunkel’s America and Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, plus hard-rock songs created in ’70s style for the band Stillwater. Almost Famous also includes a score by Crowe’s wife, Nancy Wilson of the rock band Heart.

While music is central to the film, Almost Famous really is a story about family and connecting with kindred souls. William Miller strikes up a bittersweet relationship with lead band aid Penny Lane (Kate Hudson).

“Cameron’s one of my favourite directors,” Hudson said. “One thing I love about his work is that everything’s based on love. In all of his movies, he touches on love in such a real and profound way without making it sappy.”

Likewise, William bonds in an unusual way with Crudup’s character, Russell Hammond, Stillwater’s searing guitarist. The two form a complicated friendship, with their mutual love for music overcoming the band’s view of all journalists as “the enemy.”

“Working with Cameron, I felt I was working with somebody after something complex and multilayered,” Crudup said. “That’s what I strive for. To be associated with somebody much smarter than me, saying something much more important and vital than I could come up with.”

William also takes up with a mentor, rock writer Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who was a guide and role model for Crowe when he began covering music.

The most interesting relationship is that between William and his mother Elaine, who seems frantically overprotective yet ultimately is the most caring and liberal-minded of parents. Crowe said the sparring between William and Elaine closely captures the relationship with his own mother, who was on the set much of the time.

When they met, Crowe’s mother told McDormand she found Elaine to be written rather shrilly and said she hoped the actress did not intend to play the character that way.

“I said, ‘You know what? I don’t think she is shrill,”‘ McDormand said. “I don’t think she’s you, and I don’t think she’s me. She’s Elaine, now.’ And we talked about how regardless of whether a character might be based on an actual person, once it becomes a movie, it’s a fictional character from that point on.”

Still, Crowe views Almost Famous as less a work of fiction than a faithful document of his time as that gawking boy thrust into the world of his musical heroes, a personal yet accessible coming-of-age story in rarefied circumstances.

“I never wanted this movie to feel like the movie at the bottom of the drawer that you’ve got to endure because the guy had a success before it. There’s a very particular cologne about those kinds of projects. I’m really proud that this movie is not a vanity piece,” Crowe said.

“I really can put this away, now. I really can say, ‘You know, I made a movie about it.’ And it comes pretty damn close to the way it felt.”

Courtesy of AP – David Germain – September 18, 2000