Lowdown: A road trip movie about music and growing up.
Where were you the first time you saw Almost Famous? Many would answer "the cinema" or "on the soft at home" while others will say they've never heard of Almost Famous. But my answer would be on the more original side of things: I was at my university's swimming pool. As exotic as watching a film at a swimming pool can be, it made getting into the spirit of the film really hard; some technical projection issues made it even harder. With Almost Famous now available as a Blu-ray release, the time had come to revisit this year 2000 release from Cameron Crowe.
Cameron Crowe does seem to specialize in films dealing with naivety, the likes of Jerry Maguire and Elizabethtown; Almost Famous is no exception. The difference about its story is that, given Crowe's famous affection to music, it has this sort of an autobiographical feeling to it. I almost wonder if the film tells the story of Crowe himself, or perhaps the story of the way Crowe would have liked to grow up. Regardless, the Blu-ray gives an elongated take on matters with an almost three hours take on the story.
Yes, let's get to the story. It revolves around an American Baby Boomer teenager, William Miller, during the early seventies. We start with the kid living with his single mother and sister; the mother, the ever so excellent Frances McDormand, cannot bear not to have her kids firmly under her protective grip. Yet, or despite that, the kids rebel; our William's rebellion takes shape in his investigative journalism on the subject of contemporary rock bands. William is so good at this writing that he gets an opportunity to write a cover article for Rolling Stone magazine on the emerging [fictional] band Stillwater. Grasping the opportunity with both hands, despite mother related conscience issues, he goes on a tour across the USA with the band.
It is during this tour that the bulk of the film takes place in the shape of your classic road trip movie. William gets to know the members of the band and the politics between the band members; he gets exposed to the feeling of the tour - the sex, the drugs and the rock 'n' roll; he gets to know the opposite sex, mostly in the shape of a youngish Kate Hudson (who shows up she sucked big time even when she was younger). And yes, through it all, he grows up. Society as a whole grows up around him, too.
The thing about Almost Famous is not the personal story of William. It is rather a case of William's growing up in the shadow of a band tour acting as a metaphor to the way the music industry was shaped by a society waking up from its idealism in favor of pure capitalism. Almost Famous thus tells the story of how music seems to have lost that sense of mysticism that it had back during Crowe's childhood days and how the industry turned its back on its supporters in its greed. And I can identify with that: Like Crowe, I grew up under the misty myth of bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, who were more like deities than real people; the world back then was not equipped with the means to tell me what each band member ate for breakfast the way it does today. And like Crowe, I still seem to harbor that myth within me, so much so that when in a recent debate about the qualities of The School of Rock I was left breathless when my fellow arguer had dared to claim "there's a LOT of filler in Led Zeppelin's catalog". I suspect the ability to make such a statement is the direct result of the age difference between us.
Still, there is no true need to look for depth in Almost Famous. At its core, this is a film about music, inspired by that Led Zeppelin atmosphere of yonder. It's relaxed, it's funny at times, and it takes it's time; it's naive. Throughout it's inoffensive length and you'll have a smile on your face, even if you don't happen to be watching it at a swimming pool.
Best scene: The various sharp edges between the Stillwater band members get some extra sharpening when the plane they're on is about to crash and the band members make their last minute confessions to one another.
Technical assessment: Although not bad, this Blu-ray's picture does show its age with some dirt and grain. The sound follows on the generally relaxed atmosphere of the film, but during the concerts it really shines; never aggressive, it does make you feel like you're there. The Blu-ray uncompressed sound definitely does the nice rock soundtrack a favor.
Overall: A pleasant progressive 4 out of 5 stars experience.