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Almost Famous is a 2000 comedy-drama film written and directed by Cameron Crowe and telling the fictional story of a teenage journalist writing for Rolling Stone magazine while covering a rock band Stillwater, and his efforts to get his first cover story published. The film is semi-autobiographical, as Crowe himself was a teenage writer for Rolling Stone.

The film is based on Crowe's experiences touring with rock bands The Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. In a Rolling Stone article, he talks about how he lost his virginity, fell in love, and met his heroes, experiences that are shared by William, the main character in the film.

Despite failing to break even, the film received positive reviews. It received four Oscar nominations, one of which led to an award to Crowe for his screenplay. It was also awarded the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. Roger Ebert hailed it the best film of the year. It also won two Golden Globes, for Best Picture and Kate Hudson won Best Supporting Actress.

Plot

In 1973, William Miller (Patrick Fugit), is a 15-year-old boy aspiring to be a rock journalist. Unfortunately for William, his mother, Elaine (Frances McDormand), is determined that William will be the country's youngest lawyer, and has skipped the 'predominantly advanced' boy a couple of grades in school and while at home, she thinks, she provides him the tools he needs to be a success. These 'tools' are of more value to him, she believes, than merely fitting in with a crowd. William rises up to the responsibility of using his intelligence, though not as his mother hopes. Shunned by his classmates (most of whom are two or three years older than he is), he writes for underground papers in his hometown of San Diegomarker, sharing the love of rock and roll instilled in him through a farewell gift of music from his sister, Anita (Zooey Deschanel): albums left behind on the day that she escapes the home life which William must still endure.

He goes one morning to watch as a local radio station interviews pioneering rock journalist Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman). William has been sending Bangs copies of his work, and Bangs recognizes the talent of the boy. The two hit it off, and Bangs gives William a $35 assignment to write up a Black Sabbath concert. Lester advises William to be honest and unmerciful, but fails to mention how to get into the show or to meet the band. William, without credentials or a ticket, cannot get into the arenamarker. He meets up with some semi-groupies who call themselves "Band-Aides": Estrella Starr (Bijou Phillips), Polexia Aphrodisia (Anna Paquin), Sapphire (Fairuza Balk), and their leader, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). The Band-Aides gain entrance to the show, but William is still barred from entry as the opening band, Stillwater, arrives, running late. At first they dismiss him as a journalist, "the enemy", but when he calls them by their names and praises their most recent work in detail, they realize that he is a genuine fan and maneuver him backstage. There, in spite of his instincts, the band's "guitarist with mystique", Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) takes a liking to William, no doubt in part because of William's apparent friendship with Penny, and invites William to meet up with him and the band again.

A week or so later, William goes with Penny (deceiving his mother) to the "Riot Housemarker" – the Hyatt Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. He first meets Vic Munoz (Jay Baruchel), an extreme Led Zeppelin fan who follows them all over the country, and they are soon in a room with Stillwater. Penny, feigning retirement from her rock glory days, has brought William along and is acting as his chauffeur, but only as far as it gets her close to Russell, who she has genuine feelings for, though she claims he is merely a 'project' and a man who she helps better himself. It isn't long before Penny and Russell head off to a vending machine room, to be alone.

While typing up his notes, William is called by Ben Fong-Torres (Terry Chen), editor of Rolling Stone. They have read his home town material and want him to do a story. Ben is under the impression that William is several years older than he really is. William does nothing to disillusion Ben and manages to convince Ben to let him do a story on Stillwater. William is to meet up with the band and take to the road with them, getting a tale of up-and-comers who are starting to find out what the rock big time is all about.

Elaine consents, under strict conditions (which, to her chagrin, will be repeatedly violated, William even misses his graduation).

Aboard "Doris", the band's beloved, decrepit tour bus, ride Stillwater, a couple of members of their crew, the Band-Aides, and "the enemy", there to record and relate all he sees and hears. While aboard the bus, on the first leg of the trip, William makes his first in an increasingly frustrating number of attempts to interview Russell. Penny watches the interaction between the two and is sympathetic with William. The band's lead singer, Jeff (Jason Lee), seeing that William's efforts are centered on Russell and knowing that in many ways Russell's abilities have surpassed the band mates, also keeps an eye on William, and often warns Russell off of the boy, reminding him who William really represents to them. Jeff is correct in what William could do to them, but his cautions also reflect an underlying resentment and frustration that comes to the surface in short time as road events test the band.

The young journalist witnesses Russell receiving a severe electric shock on stage in Phoenix, which infuriates their long-time but inexperienced manager Dick Roswell (Noah Taylor), causing them to leave the show without finishing their set, and destroying a gate with Doris to escape the furious promoter. Later, in Topeka, Kansas, a new T-shirt showing the band (with all members but Russell out of focus) sparks a bitter argument between Jeff and Russell, Jeff angry that what was once "The Jeff Bebe Band" is now dominated by Russell. In reaction, Russell and William leave, soon going off to a teenage house party so Russell can be with people who are "real". Tripping on acid, Russell climbs onto the roof of the house where he screams "I am a golden god!" and possible last words "I dig music... I'm on drugs!", and jumps into the pool. Everyone else at the party follows into the water. William calls Dick to come by the house, and Russell is persuaded to get on the bus. It is made clear that the band is a family, and has the potential to ride out issues as they keep on playing across the country.

A new manager, Dennis, comes on board to help steer the band, and it's also made clear that Penny must leave the tour before New York, where Leslie, Russell's ex-wife/girlfriend, will be joining up. During a poker game, he allows Dick to put up the groupies as a stake. The band loses the groupies to the band Humble Pie for $50 and a case of Heineken beer. When William tells Penny about this, she acts nonchalant but is devastated. Penny and Doris are left behind; Dennis has piled the band into a plane to get them to more gigs, money and fame now close as they are to the band's grasp.

Penny goes to New York on her own, and as the band gathers in a restaurant together with Russell's girlfriend, Penny shows up in the background. As they begin to celebrate the news of making the cover of Rolling Stone, it is clear that Penny is making Leslie uncomfortable because she speaks up and Dick asks her to leave. William goes to Penny's room and finds her overdosed on quaaludes (methaqualone). While trying to wake her up, he tells her he loves her and goes where "many, many men have gone before" and kisses her. William calls a doctor, who comes and pumps her stomach. The following morning, Penny shares with William some of what the others have been trying to learn about her for some time, thanking him for his part in saving her, and for being, arguably, her only real friend on the tour.

Heading to another concert the same day, the band's plane is caught in poor weather and looks like it will have to make a crash landing. Believing they will all die, the band members and entourage start confessing their secrets. When Jeff and Russell start arguing, and Penny is referred to as "that fucking groupie", William defends Penny and speaks his anger that the band used her, declaring his own love for her, and telling them of the events of the night before. The plane lands safely, leaving all to ponder the changed atmosphere.

William must continue on to San Franciscomarker to finish the story. As he is leaving to fly to San Francisco, Russell tells him to go ahead and write whatever he wants. William, still upset about Penny, does write what he wants: the truth in its entirety. The Rolling Stone editors love the story and can't wait to publish it, but first they have to ask the band to verify it. The band, fearful of the effect the article will have on their image, denies everything. William is crushed and the story is dead. While sitting dejected in the airport, he sees his sister, who has become a stewardess and is living on her own terms. They go back home together, and William stages a reconciliation.

While backstage at the Miami Orange Bowlmarker back on the Stillwater tour, Sapphire (Fairuza Balk) talks to Russell about Penny's near-suicide and how despite the many warnings she received about having too many people fall in love with her, one of them ended up saving her life. Russell is initially curious about the person Sapphire talks about (William), but Sapphire immediately chastises him, saying that everyone, including Penny, knows what Russell and the band did to William and how awful they think it is. Russell then calls Penny and asks for her address, telling her that he wants to meet. Instead she gives him William's address in an attempt to solve the conflict between them. Russell goes to the house thinking it's Penny's but finds Elaine instead. Upon learning who he is, she sends him in to see William. The two of them reconcile and Russell reveals that he called Rolling Stone and told them that William's story is true. In the end, Russell finally gives William the long overdue interview.

The final scenes are a picture of the cover of the Rolling Stone issue that will feature William's story with Russell's picture on the front with the rest of the band behind him. We then see images of Penny leaving on her dream trip to Morocco, William at home with his sister and mother, and of Doris, which will take the band (without William) on its 1974 tour (with the marquee "NO MORE AIRPLANES TOUR 1974").

Cast



Alternative versions

Along with the standard DVD version, Crowe compiled an alternative version called Untitled, which was a compilation of both released footage and his favorite deleted scenes. Running for about 40 minutes longer than the theatrical release, Untitled was subtitled "The Bootleg Cut", with its packaging resembling a cheap seventies bootleg. (A variant of Untitled is the basis of the network television version of Almost Famous.) The film has been released in Region 2 territories on Blu-ray Disc in its "Untitled" form, however these discs are region-free and will play in all Blu-Ray machines.

The DVD also contains a deleted scene that shows William playing Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven (in its entirety) to his mother. The song itself is not included on the soundtrack but the video has a watermark instructing viewers when to start the song.

Changes to the film

  • The hand in the opening titles writes "Untitled" instead of "Almost Famous".
  • Elaine berates a man for painting "Merry Xmas" on a storefront, saying "Xmas" is not a real word.
  • Young William is mocked in the school shower for his lack of pubic hair.
  • Bangs talks in more detail about The Guess Who and mentions a live version of "American Woman" from the band's Live at the Paramount.
  • Before cutting to the restaurant scene with Bangs, William and Lester stand on a street corner in silence, as Lester waits for a bus.
  • Before the first concert, Russell tells William how the littlest details in songs are the ones that people remember the most, citing a vocal sound in Marvin Gaye's "What's Happening, Brother?" as an example.
  • Anita's ex-boyfriend climbs through the window of her bedroom and reminisces to William about the sex that the couple had there.
  • Before he leaves for the Hyatt House, William is given a wad of 'gas money' by his mother.
  • Penny and William's arrival at the Hyatt House is heavily extended, featuring a longer section with Peter Frampton, as well as William being told to "blow me!" by a comedian.
  • Before having sex in the ice room, Penny and Russell have a conversation about their failing relationship.
  • Stillwater attends a radio interview, hosted by a stoned DJ (Kyle Gass) who falls asleep mid-conversation. Band members argue and spout profanities on-air as the DJ snoozes.
  • An extra scene before Russell's electric shock shows William attempting to interview Stillwater's dimwitted bassist in the pouring rain. There is also a scene where William interviews the drummer who does not speak a word.
  • The backstage fight over the blurry t-shirt includes an added exchange in which Russell asks Jeff if he's on cocaine.
  • In addition to "Page, Plant...Mick, Keith", Jeff also mentions Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan of Deep Purple when he gives examples of frontmen/guitarist songwriting teams.
  • A couple of lines were added to the scene in Aaron's bedroom, in which Russell gives his belt to a young admirer.
  • The scene after Russell jumps into the swimming pool is extended.
  • The band holds a birthday party for Penny Lane, where she first learns that she is not welcome on the airplane.
  • Upon exiting the band's car in New York, William's bag tears, spilling his (stolen) souvenirs from hotels all over the pavement. He is assisted in picking them up by Dick. This explains, in the regular cut, why William is holding a torn bag when he is confronted by superfan Vic.
  • After Penny Lane's recovery from her Quaalude overdose, she and William walk by the lake in Central Park. She proceeds to tell him her real name, and in the extended cut, says: "Keith Richards looked at me, pulled me on stage, he took me backstage, and gave me a Coke with ice and a lemon. And I never went home."
  • The scene where the band discusses what William wrote and how they want to deny it was extended.
  • A short scene is added near the end as Jeff and Russell talk their relationship through.


Soundtrack

The film's soundtrack features over 50 songs, making up an eclectic mix of period rock, other period genres, and some songs written by Crowe's wife, Nancy Wilson, expressly for the film. Highlights include rarely-licensed Led Zeppelin tracks, Simon & Garfunkel's "America", Elton John's "Tiny Dancer", and "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters", Steely Dan's "Reelin' in the Years", Joni Mitchell's "River" and Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air". There is one slight anachronism: during a party scene the song "Burn" by Deep Purple plays in the background. The album was not released until February 1974, a half year after the events are supposed to have taken place. Another anachronism involves the albums left to William by his sister. When William first looks through the records, it is 1969, but some of the records weren't released that year, including Joni Mitchell's Blue & The Rolling Stones' Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!, although that may have been an aesthetic choice on the part of Crowe, as the scene is representing the transition of time between 1969 and 1973.

Reaction

Almost Famous had its premiere at the 2000 Toronto Film Festivalmarker. It was subsequently given a limited release on September 15, 2000 in 131 theaters where it grossed $2.3 million on its first weekend. It was given a wider release on September 22, 2000 in 1,193 theaters where it grossed $6.9 million on its opening weekend. The film went on to make $32.5 million in North America and $14.8 million in the rest of the world for a worldwide total of $47.3, well below its $60 million budget.

Critical reception

Almost Famous was very well-received by critics who gave it predominantly positive reviews. The film has an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 90 metascore on Metacritic. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and praised it for being "funny and touching in so many different ways". In his review for The New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote, "The movie's real pleasures are to be found not in its story but in its profusion of funny, offbeat scenes. It's the kind of picture that invites you to go back and savor your favorite moments like choice album cuts". Time magazine's Richard Corliss praised the film's screenplay for "giving each character his reasons, making everyone in the emotional debate charming and compelling, creating fictional people who breathe in a story with an organic life". In her review for the L.A. Weekly, Manohla Dargis wrote that "the film shimmers with the irresistible pleasures that define Hollywood at its best - it's polished like glass, funny, knowing and bright, and filled with characters whose lives are invariably sexier and more purposeful than our own". Rolling Stone magazine's Peter Travers wrote, "Not since A Hard Day's Night has a movie caught the thrumming exuberance of going where the music takes you". In his review for Newsweek, David Ansen wrote, "Character-driven, it relies on chemistry, camaraderie, a sharp eye for detail and good casting".

Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A-" rating and Owen Gleiberman praised Crowe for depicting the 1970s as "an era that found its purpose in having no purpose. Crowe, staying close to his memories, has gotten it, for perhaps the first time, onto the screen". In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan praised Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Lester Bangs: "Superbly played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, more and more the most gifted and inspired character actor working in film, what could have been the cliched portrait of an older mentor who speaks the straight truth blossoms into a marvelous personality". However, in his review for The New York Observer, Andrew Sarris felt that "none of the non-musical components on the screen matched the excitement of the music. For whatever reason, too much of the dark side has been left out". Desson Howe, in his review for the Washington Post, found it "very hard to see these long-haired kids as products of the 1970s instead of dressed up actors from the Seattle-Starbucks era. I couldn't help wondering how many of these performers had to buy a CD copy of the song and study it for the first time".

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards:Win:
  • Best Screenplay - Original (Cameron Crowe)
Nominated:
  • Best Editing
  • Best Supporting Actress (Kate Hudson)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Frances McDormand)


American Cinema Editors:
  • Best Edited Film - Musical or Comedy (won)


Directors Guild of Americamarker (DGA):
  • Outstanding Directing - Motion Pictures (Cameron Crowe, nominated)


Golden Globe Awards:Win:
  • Best Film - Musical or Comedy (won)
  • Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture (Kate Hudson, won)
Nominated:
  • Best Screenplay (Cameron Crowe, nominated)
  • Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture (Frances McDormand, nominated)


Grammy Awards:
  • Best Compilation Soundtrack Album - Motion Picture, Television or other Visual Media (won)


Producers Guild of America (PGA):
  • Motion Picture Producer of the Year (nominated)


Screen Actors Guild (SAG):
  • Outstanding Cast - Motion Picture (nominated)
  • Outstanding Supporting Female Actor (Kate Hudson, nominated)
  • Outstanding Supporting Female Actor (Frances McDormand, nominated)


Writers Guild of America (WGA):
  • Best Screenplay - Original (Cameron Crowe, nominated)


Cultural references

  • In the scene in which the tour plane hits turbulence, Russell starts to sing "Peggy Sue". This is in reference to Buddy Holly, who died in a plane crash while on tour. Russell then continues "Whoa baby!", referencing The Big Bopper, who died in the same plane crash. The fact that the near-crash was in Mississippimarker was an allusion to the actual Lynyrd Skynyrd crash near McComb.
  • At the party, when he is on acid, Russell Hammond cries out, "I am a golden god!" This is a reference to Robert Plant of the band Led Zeppelin, who is purported to have said the same thing (sober) while looking over the Sunset Strip from a balcony at the Continental Hyatt "Riot" Housemarker. The same scene was parodied on Not Another Teen Movie.
  • When William goes to Rolling Stone's offices, Terry Chen (playing RS music editor Ben Fong-Torres) stands in front of a poster for Hunter S. Thompson's Freak Power campaign.
  • At the first Stillwater show there is a rose lying on the stage and a man in front of the stage raises his arm, thus recreating the cover of Neil Young's album Time Fades Away.
  • When Penny Lane is driving William to the "Riot House", a reflection of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album goes across the windscreen.
  • The band's name, Stillwater, comes from the Soundgarden song Rusty Cage. The name makes reference to the line "I'll take the river down to still water and ride a pack of dogs", Crowe had previously worked with Soundgarden in the film Singles. The name also echoes that of Sweetwater, the first band scheduled play at Woodstockmarker (the first performer was in fact Richie Havens).
  • There was a southern-rock band called Stillwater, which formed in 1973 in Georgia. The band was signed to Capricorn Records and released two modestly successful abums. Cameron Crowe actually approached members of Stillwater before shooting began to secure permission to use the name in the film.
  • The television series Entourage parodies the scene from the party, when Russell Hammond is on the roof, in the episode "One Day In The Valley", in which Eric "E" Murphy, declares to everybody that Vince is having his "Almost Famous" moment.
  • In the television series "Psych" several references to Almost Famous are made by the main character, Shawn, during the episode "Lets Get Hairy". It becomes a running gag when he makes a reference to a woman's name (Polexia) as Anna Paquin's character in Almost Famous. The gag is that when Shawn says this the typical response from everyone is "Anna Paquin was in Almost Famous?"
  • Stillwater's touring airplane is a Lockheed Loadstar, a type of plane that bares an immense similarity to and is often mistaken for a Twin Beech. Appropriately enough, Otis Redding and Jim Croce were both killed in Twin Beech crashes.
  • At the beginning of the movie, Sapphire opens the backstage door to the Black Sabbath concert and shouts, "Does anybody remember laughter?". This is a reference to Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant who would often sing this during live performances of Stairway to Heaven.


References



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