Thursday, February 25, 2010
Great Movies: Turn Up The Volume
There’s a wonderful scene between Kate Hudson and Patrick Fugit. They are the young journalist and the groupie. “Do you want to go to Morocco with me? Do you want to come?” she asks. “Ask me again,” says the young journalist. “Do you want to come?” she says. “Yes. Yes!” he says. “You got to call me,” she says, “It’s all happening! It’s all happening!” and than the boy reporter runs down the parking lot during the night as the faint sound of a songbird is heard, and the camera pans from an areal view. Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film, “Almost Famous” is a film about music, journalism and maybe the luckiest teenager you ever met. Everyone hates him. Everyone calls him the nark behind his back, according to his sister. His sister and mother disagree, and his mother wants to protect him, telling him constantly not to use drugs as he walks towards the concert hall where a band called Stillwater is playing. One day, you’ll be cool, says his sister to him when he’s a little boy. Music critic Lester Bangs asks him if he’s the star of his school. “They hate me,” he says. Of course, he isn’t.
And thus, journalism comes to his rescue. Unlike other movies about teens and music, it isn’t rock and roll that saves him. He doesn’t pick up a guitar. What save him are the spirit of the music and the sound of his typewriter. Why do we have movie critics and why do we have music journalists? If they love it so much, why aren’t we the ones making the films or the music? “I’m always at home,” says Lester Bangs to his young journalist friend over the phone, “I’m un cool.” To which he gives his young journalist friend some advice, as to why he’s trying to figure out why he disobeyed the advice of his mentor, Lester Bangs, “because they make you feel cool, and kid, I’ve met you. You are not cool.” Lester Bangs was the Roger Ebert of rock criticism, back in the 70s. He was the editor of a magazine called Creem and in the film; Philip Seymour Hoffman plays him, with baggy clothes. “Oh man!” he says, “you made friends with them!” He sits in a diner, telling his young friend about how he used to stay up all night writing gibbish about the faces of Cold Train. In a way, this is how all journalists start. They sit there, writing rants and raves, and it’s when they figure out how to put it in order they become journalists.
That’s one of the reasons I think ‘Almost Famous’ is so wonderful. It’s a love letter to music and journalism. Soon, he is whisked away by a band named Stillwater on their bus. A kid with a mother and sister who don’t get along finds himself a second family. This band. There’s a wonderful scene where he’s sitting on the bus with the band and ‘Tiny Dancer’ starts to play. Before he knows it, the entire band is signing around with the song of ‘Tiny Dancer.’ He turns around to Penny Lane, the groupie he loves, and goes “I need to go home,” to which she says, “You are home.” All these misfits on a bus together, signing a song together. Russell, the lead signer, sitting in the front of the bus, is smiling in the front seat.
Russell’s a wonderful character. He can appear to be a big time rock star, standing on top of the house, yelling “I am a golden god!” and the next moment, he’s on the phone with the kid journalist’s mother, promising her “We are taking good care of your son.” The evolution of the kid’s mother, at first when she goes to a concert hall, she looks out of the car and calls them a lost generation, “a generation of Cinderella’s”, but there’s that wonderful scene where Russell and her come face to face. “I thought we connected,” she says, smiling. There’s a wonderful little line there when they meet, where she turns to him and goes “My son is important to me, too”, as she understands that Russell cares about her son as well. Russell turns to the kid, and they talk about Penny Lane. “I know, I think we both wanted to be with her, but maybe she wanted us to be together.”
The band ‘Stillwater’ was based on the band, ‘The Allman Brothers’, which the writer/director Cameron Crowe traveled around with when he was a teenage reporter for Rolling Stone. Every time I watch this film, I think to myself, boy, Cameron Crowe was the luckiest teenager who ever lived. When I was a teenager, I would go to library and dream of writing for Rolling Stone, as I sat in the magazine section of the library flipping through the magazine’s colorful pages and dreaming of the day my name would be in print of the magazine.
I got a brief glance of what it’s like to be a music journalist when a friend asked me to go and write an article about his band. I sat there in a warehouse, with a notebook, smoking a cigarette, thinking I was really cool, and of course, when I actually sited down to write the article about their music and progress, I must admit it was hard to put into words the spirit of what they have just done in that warehouse that day. Music is such a hard thing to make solid. The young journalist picks up his tape recorder and goes “So, Russell, what do you love about music” and he goes, “to begin with, everything.”