04 October 2000 Almost Famous: Essay on Entertainment Criticism A rolling stone gathers no moss. If Cameron Crowe is to be believed, a 15-year-old Rolling Stone writer will gather all kinds of things. Not the least of which are life experience, sexual exploits, and rock and roll insights. Almost Famous is Crowe's semi-autobiographical account of a young man taking the fast lane to adulthood on the tour bus with a rising rock and roll band. The critics are almost unanimous in their praise of this peek at the backstage machinations of the 1970's rock music scene. The critics feel that Cameron Crowe's script and direction, combined with breakout performances from Kate Hudson and Patrick Fugit in major roles, and enhanced by the scintillating talents of Frances McDormand and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in supporting roles, tells a natty tale of life by misadventure.
Almost Famous tells the story of William Miller (newcomer Patrick Fugit), an underage prodigy-writer attempting to document the thrills and spills of life on the road with a burgeoning rock and roll band called Stillwater. The first verse of this protracted rock and roll number is where we first meet William Miller (played initially by Michael Angarano). He is a precocious eleven-year-old boy living in San Diego, California. For reasons unexplained, his mother Elaine (Frances McDormand) has convinced him that he's 13. She has skipped him forward two grades in school, so this fiction continues until his rebellious older sister Anita (Zooey Deschanel), in a great scene, forces Elaine to tell the truth.
The second verse jumps forward four years to 1973; William is now free-lancing articles and reviews for local and school newspapers. Soon William meets the legendary Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) the editor-critic of the San Diego based Creem magazine. Lester becomes a mentor for William and soon hires him to cover a Black Sabbath concert at a local venue. William's first hurdle comes when he is denied back-stage access and is forced to wait outside with the groupies. He meets the Band-aids, a group of girls including Sapphire (Fairuza Balk) and Polexia (Anna Paquin) who are led by Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). Penny says the girls are not groupies because they don't have sex with the musicians. They think of themselves as muses acting as the inspiration for rock-and-roll music. Penny introduces William to Stillwater. The members of the band promptly dub him "the enemy" and disregard him. William will not be denied and impresses the band, particularly lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) and singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee), with his knowledge of their music. The band members get William inside for the show and then inexplicably invite him to join them in Los Angeles. His access to Stillwater lands William an assignment with the preeminent music magazine of the time, Rolling Stone. He is given the assignment of touring with the band to document the dirty little secrets of rock music.
The third verse is the saga of the tour. This is the longest movement of the piece and is comprised of numerous vignettes connected by regularly spaced scenes from the bus, and later, by a delightful scene on an airplane. Conflicts abound for William during this segment as he develops a friendship with Russell and an infatuation with Penny. Then he loses his cherry to the Band-aids, sans their leader. William must decide if his loyalty is to his craft or to his new friends. Then he must decide who deserves his friendship when Russell's hidden nature is displayed, Penny overdoses, and the tour ends.
The fourth verse is short and bittersweet. Russell tells William to write whatever he wants. William decides that what he wants to write is the truth and then is crushed when Russell decries the entire article as fiction. This costs William his credibility with his editor and he returns home exhausted and disenchanted.
Elaine and Lester provide the chorus that holds it all...
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29 Sep. 2000
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