Almost Famous – Toronto Star

Director Has Song in His Heart

Cameron Crowe isn’t really a movie director at heart. He’s a musician who can’t carry a tune.

He admitted as much at a press conference yesterday prior to the screening of his film Almost Famous, which tells the autobiographical story of a young Rolling Stone writer who becomes emotionally involved in the world of rock music in the 1970s.

Crowe admits he uses music as an inspiration for his work, particularly the classic rock he grew up with.

“I always knew (Elton John’s) ‘Tiny Dancer’ was going to be part of the script. Similarly, there were a few other songs I just wanted the movie to live up to. Like the Led Zeppelin song ‘That’s The Way.’ These are all songs I’d have on tapes and listen to in my car and think about the scenes.”

And after he had cast Patrick Fugit as the main character, he sent the 16-year-old a wide selection of ’70s music to listen to in preparation for shooting.

Fugit admitted yesterday he had never really been a music fan before Almost Famous. “I’m sorry, but I think I owned, like, one Chumbawumba CD . . . and I thought Led Zeppelin was one guy,” he said.

But listening to the music helped him get into his part, and now he’s a big ’70s fan. “I think everybody can agree that (’70s music) feels more real than (Britney Spears’) ‘Oops I Did It Again,'” he said. “For every generation, there’s music you can relate to, but I don’t think my generation really knows about the music of the ’70s.”

On set, Crowe used music to create moods and elicit reactions from his cast. For Billy Crudup, who plays the guitarist in a fictional band named Stillwater, which the main character follows on tour for a Rolling Stone story, Crowe used a certain Bruce Springsteen song.

Kate Hudson, who plays a young woman following the band on tour, turned to Joni Mitchell every morning before going to work.

And for Jason Lee, who plays the vapid lead singer of Stillwater, the music written by Nancy Wilson and Peter Frampton helped him figure out how to act like a rock star.

“I didn’t know how to move. I was afraid to look like I didn’t know what I was doing. . . . But soon enough, I realized I was getting into the music, and I just let it do its thing. . . . I was on the rock ‘n’ roll boat.”

Music has been a theme throughout Crowe’s filmography. As well the recent hit Jerry Maguire and the novel that became Fast Times At Ridgemont High, he wrote the cult classic Say Anything and the early ’90s grunge tale Singles. In both of those films, music was a character in and of itself, helping lonely people find each other, if only for a moment.

And that’s what drives his filmmaking, Crowe confessed. “Somebody said to me, ‘I saw your movie, and you directed that like a musician.’ And it was a musician that told me that, and it was a compliment that I’ll never forget, because that was sort of the goal.

“I just love music so much.”

Courtesy of Toronto Star – Daphne Gordon – September 9, 2000