Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Untitled - The Bootleg Edition of ALMOST FAMOUS
Note the copy of the Stones' Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass)
"Have we met?"
"Won't you get on my back for a piggy back ride"
"Ladies and gentlemen..."
"Act 1, in which she pretends she doesn't care about him. Act 2, in which he pretends he doesn't care about her. But he goes right for her."
"I am a golden god!"
"Hi, Mom. This is Russell Hammond. I play guitar in Stillwater."
"You are home."
The Band Aids: Polexia Aphrodisia, Sapphire, and Estrella Starr:
"Famous people are just more interesting."
One of the movie's most beautiful scenes: Penny Lane dancing around the empty venue to Cat Steven's "The Wind"
"What kind of beer?"
"I'm tired, and I'm retired."
"She always said, 'Marry up. Marry someone grand...' And that's why she named me Lady."
Almost Famous, or Untitled, the bootleg version with 30 extra minutes, is unequivocally my all-time favourite film. It is perhaps Cameron Crowe's finest and most perfect movie. I dug Jerry Maguire and Say Anything (like everyone else) but I still found the epicenter of the romantic relationships in them to be slightly 'off' in some way, somehow just a tad uncompelling and unrealistic. Maybe it was the actors who portrayed certain characters that lent me this feeling of discomfort, but nonetheless, there is something wanting. In Almost Famous, every actor does such such a suberb job it was as if they were born for their roles. And I mean everyone; Frances McDormand as the smart and loving (yet overbearing) single mother; Jason Lee as the funny but not-quite-star material Stillwater lead singer; Philip Seymour Hoffman as legendary no-bullshit rock critic Lester Bangs; Patrick Fugit (the protagonist) as the precocious and sympathetically unaffected William Miller. Even Jimmy Fallon does a superb job as opportunistic big-name band manager Dennis Hope.
But the real star of Almost Famous is of course Kate Hudson, who plays the mysterious, multi-layered queen of the Band-Aids, Miss Penny Lane. Penny meets aspiring rock writer William Miller one night at a Black Sabbath concert and promises to try to get him backstage to interview the band. Lester Bangs gave him his first assignment (for Creem magazine) - to write 1,000 words on Sabbath for $35. William, who is extremely bright and on track to be a lawyer at his mother's urging, really has a passion for rock n' roll and writing and has his mother's reluctant blessing as long as it's just "a hobby". He can't get in to interview Sabbath but after ingratiating himself with opening band Stillwater, an up-and-coming American rock outfit, by telling guitarist Russell Hammond that his playing is "incendiary", he finally enters the backstage universe. He gets somewhat taken under Stillwater's wing, as Russell and lead singer Jeff Bebe warm to him and tell him to come up to L.A., their next tour stop. William's Sabbath piece gets in the hands of Ben Fong-Torres, an editor at Rolling Stone, and he wants William to write for them. William, who is only 16, puts on a deep voice to come across as an older, more seasoned journalist (Rolling Stone couldn't exactly hop online and Google him back then), and suggests a piece on Stillwater since he seems to get on so well with them. Rolling Stone agrees and off he embarks. He meets up with Penny and they go see the band at the infamous Continental Hyatt House (knicknamed 'The Riot House') in Los Angeles. There they find Stillwater as well as Penny's crew of friends and 'Band-Aids', Polexia, Sapphire and Estrella who have taken up with members of the band as temporary girlfriends of sorts. But Penny, unbeknownst to William (who is already deeply infatuated with the lithe blonde stunner), used to be involved with Russell, the standout musician and star of Stillwater. Penny uses William's novice as her excuse to hang out with Stillwater again, although she and Russell apparently had parted on semi-bad terms after he "didn't even leave a pass in San Diego". William realizes quickly the relationship between them, keeps his affections quiet, and tries to be a friend to them both.
A $1,000, 3,000-word assignment from Rolling Stone requires that William spend a significant amount of time with Stillwater and accompany them "on the road". Elaine, William's mother, says that he can only be gone ta few days from school and miss one test. Elated that he lets her go, William sets off on Doris, the band's faithful old tour bus. He tries to get the key interview with Russell, but his moody demeanor makes it difficult. The band, though fond of William, knows that he is still "the enemy" - a journalist, and Russell appeals to William as a friend and says "Just make us look cool". William is torn between his camraderie with the group and his ethical duties as a writer. The three days out of school soon turn to weeks, and Elaine is increasingly frustrated. William is too; he loves Penny but sees her in a troubled relationship with Russell, who has a steady girlfriend, the somewhat unlikeable Leslie. During a road manager game of poker in which Russell and William are both present, William witnesses Russell agreeing to 'sell' Penny and the Band-Aids to Humble Pie for $50 and a case of Heineken, because they must leave the tour before New York City (when Leslie is due to arrive).
William also bears witness to tension within the band; Russell is the most popular member and the one people pay attention to, which makes Jeff and the rest of the guys feel jealous and less-important. After a technical difficulty on stage one night that almost electrifies Russell's hand, the band (along with their long time manager, Dick) run out on the concert unaware of how to handle the situation. Enter: Dennis Hope, a big-name band manager, who entices the guys with his experience and understanding of the rock n' roll ball game. They abandon Doris for a plane to play more dates (and earn more money) although no one feels entirely comfortable with the situation.
Penny is gently told by Dennis at her unofficial birthday party that she is not to come to New York City. Although she's tough and fancies herself immune to any sort of heart-break that goes along with the crazy lifestyle, she lets her guard down in front of William, asking if he could please talk to Russell, etc. William is tired of her naivete of the situation and tells her about the side poker deal. Here she cries, a moment that is gorgeously filmed.
New York City: Rolling Stone tells William that Stillwater is to be on the cover of the magazine and that they need his story ASAP, so he faxes them the disjointed bits of notes that he has. William announces the cover-story victory to the band one night at dinner (I think they're eating at Max's Kansas City) and they all rejoice. Then Penny appears across the crowded room, chatting idly and making eyes at Russell. He looks at her, wants to go to her, but fails to get up from the table because of Leslie sitting next to him, already suspicious. Instead, Dick goes to talk to her and she runs off upset. William tries to find her, but to no avail. When he tracks her down at a suite in The Plaza hotel, she has downed champagne and a bottle of quaaludes. William calls for help, a doctor pumps her stomach, and she survives.
A near-fatal crash on Stillwater's plane home the next day leads to a bunch of secrets being revealed. Jeff is in love with Leslie, Russell has been sleeping with Penny (which is news to no one but Leslie), Ed Valencourt (Stillwater's drummer) is gay, Dennis hit a man on the road once and left, Dick took a few dollars here and there from the band, and everyone is resentful towards Russell. William, unable to contain his usually mild temperament, explodes when Jeff refers to Penny as "that fucking groupie". He tells them that she almost died the night before and that she was their biggest fan, one they just used and threw away. The turbulence subsides, the air clears and everyone is silent with embarrassment.
At the airport, Russell quietly tells William to write what he wants, and he finally arrives back home. He is called into the Rolling Stone headquarters and told that his hastened story is a "puff piece". He asks for one more night to work on it. The next day, they are blown away by his true tales of life on the road with Stillwater, but when fact-checking, the band denies all the juicy bits, even Russell who had given him the green-light. Word of this unfairness reaches everyone, all the Band Aids, even Penny. One day Russell phones her and says, "I'm coming to you this time", and she gives him an address. When he gets there, Elaine answers the door and leads him towards William's bedroom. He is confused, then realizes what's going on. William says he wants to do the interview one more time. "Russell," he starts, pressing record on the tape player, "What do you love about music?" Russell grins, flips his chair around and settles comfortably, and replies, "To begin with, everything."
Stillwater gets the Rolling Stone cover, and Penny goes to Morocco away from all the insanity to re-address her life. She thanks William for everything he's done for her. William, his sister Anita, and Elaine reunite and become a family again.