stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
Real people, real feelings, that's it
space
In the weekly series The Enthusiast, The Globe and Mail's writers offer a window into their own private cultural lives: what they're watching, reading, seeing and listening to. This week, Johanna Schneller reflects on what makes Almost Famous - Cameron Crowe's memoirs on music, journalism and impermanence - almost perfect
space
By JOHANNA SCHNELLER
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Saturday, October 5, 2019 – Page R12

Is there a word for nostalgia for something that isn't quite gone? Because that's the feeling I got the first time I saw Cameron Crowe's autobiographical film Almost Famous, which arrived Sept. 22, 2000. I still feel it, every time I see it. The film is yearning in celluloid form.

Yearning is underrated. It's the sharp-sweet part of love, the thing that propels you from your chair into a wider world, and the thing that pins you to your chair, pining for a wider world. The art that most moves me is that ache.

I feel it in films as disparate as Adaptation, She's Gotta Have It, Breaking Away and An Education. It's about getting out, making something, meaning something. It's about unsticking yourself from who you are, longing to be better than you are and finally being who you are, all at once.

That's the arc of Almost Famous: William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a 15-year-old music lover in 1973 San Diego, too bright to fit in, stumbles into a gig covering the tour of a mid-level rock band, Stillwater, for Rolling Stone magazine. He has a professor mother, Elaine (Frances McDormand), who recognizes who he is but fears for his youth; a rock-critic mentor, Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who gives him both hope and realistic expectations; an idol, Stillwater guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), who has all the cool William doesn't; and a crush, the discerning groupie Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), who sees in William what he almost is. (As with all great writing, each gets his/her own arc.) Over the course of a summer, William experiences equal parts delight and misery, and eventually figures out what matters to him.

Notice something interesting?

No antagonist. The obstacle William must overcome in his hero's journey is only himself.

There are so many reasons I adore this film. Here's one: The journey is joyful. Crowe loves everything about music and its world, and he communicates that to us in specific, discrete scenes.

The feeling you get singing along to the radio with friends in a moving vehicle. The glee of being at an epic party. How a truly loyal groupie at a backstage buffet knows better than to eat all the steak.

Another thing to love: This is a movie about writing. In September, 2000, I was at the apex of my own career, doing celebrity profiles for American magazines, and Crowe's script made the hair on the back of my neck stand in recognition. (I wasn't alone in this: He won both the Oscar and the BAFTA for best original screenplay.) When William meets Bangs for the first time, you expect Bangs to scoff, but no - thrillingly, he takes William seriously.

"Music chooses you," Bangs proffers (echoing the way I feel about all art that I love). But the music Bangs and William love is fading away, becoming corporate, "an industry of cool." William will make that rare, magic transition from being a fan to being a part of it. But "you cannot make friends with the rock stars," Bangs warns.

The only way to achieve anything is to be "honest, and unmerciful."

What essential advice! I chose to write about celebrities because I believe that the people we make famous are the ones who somehow represent what we might be, given the means, access and connections most of us will never have; and therefore, writing about them will communicate something to all of us about what matters. Bangs's speech tells me that Crowe believes that, too.

But it's that word "almost" that defines this movie, and makes my heart constrict. Because achieving what you set out to do is so rare. Most of the time, "almost" is all we get. You're almost brilliant. What you say will almost matter. Your contribution will almost last. The line Bangs feeds William to sell Rolling Stone on giving him more time - "This is a think piece about a midlevel band struggling with their own limitations" - is both an inside joke (that's what every story is, ha ha!) and pure truth (that's what every story is, shuddering sigh).

The idea that Stillwater is almost famous at the moment when rock is almost dead is also poignant to me - that idea of missing something before it's gone that I mentioned at the top - because that happened to me, too, with magazines. When this film arrived, I was 38; I finally knew something about writing. Magazines were flying me to New York, Los Angeles and London and giving me 5,000 words to describe what I saw. Celebrity profiles were following all the strictures of legitimate journalism, and writing for Premiere, GQ, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair felt like contributing something to the culture.

But I could see the end coming fast. The access to people was waning. The ad money was fleeing to the internet. The number of magazines that wanted writers to tell the truth was dwindling. I'd glimpsed the top, the great-perfect-shining thing that we'd pulled off, at the very moment I could see it crumbling away beneath me.

"It's all happening," is Penny Lane's catchphrase; and that, too, is double-edged. We're here, we're feeling this, let's remember to be in it. Because in a flash, it won't be happening any more. Why do things that are great slip away?

Because time goes in only one direction. Big-band music ebbs away for rock, which ebbs away for hip hop. Albums move aside for streaming. Newspaper culture is supplanted by the internet.

Rolling Stone itself goes from being counterculture to broadly important - a unifier, a gathering place at the junction of music, celebrity and politics, a preinternet web - to peripheral.

It's all happening, again. Still.

Always. Those of us who were there, who got to experience for a second how fun it was, should count ourselves lucky but not dwell on it too much, because utter irrelevance that way lies. Great art, like great moments, fills you with both longing for it and nostalgia about it, even while you're in it. The minute you know it's all happening, it's not happening any more. That, my friends, is life.

Here's the main reason I adore Almost Famous. It's a hero's journey for the uncool. "One day you'll be cool," William's sister (Zooey Deschanel - Crowe had a genius for casting this film) tells him, which sets him on his way.

At his lowest, Bangs sets him straight: "They make you feel cool, but hey, I met you - you are not cool," he says.

Then near the end (rule of three!), Bangs delivers this gift: "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're not cool." I'm almost crying right now.

Finally: William's mom. Crowe and McDormand give us a mom for the ages, with an Act 3 phone speech destined to be an audition monologue for the rest of time.

So go, watch this movie. Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid. It's not too late for you to become a person of substance.

Associated Graphic

Patrick Fugit stars as 15-year-old music lover William Miller opposite Kate Hudson's Penny Lane in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019
Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Johanna_Schneller Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page