Almost Famous ★★★★★

Film #4 in my A Month of Mourning: Philip Seymour Hoffman Tribute

What do you love about music? To begin with...everything.

These closing lines pretty much sum up the way I feel about Almost Famous. I remember the first time I saw it, around 2001. I remember feeling acutely like William, played to nerdish perfection by Patrick Fugit, wanting so desperately to be in this mythical world of rock, of music, of dreams and magic. It's funny to hear the great Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing the equally great Lester Bangs, talk about how 1974 is the end of rock, the "death rattle".

Looking back now it feels like it was a hesitant star waiting to blossom. The gawky childhood of early 1960s rock was over and after 1969 a post-Beatles music landscape emerged. 1974 saw bands like Blondie, Jefferson Starship and the Ramones form. Bob Dylan was touring for the first time since 1966, Joni Mitchell releases "Court and Spark", Queen play for the first time in the States, Patti Smith releases her first single, Bowie releases Diamond Dogs, Bon Scott joins AC/DC, George Harrison embarks on his first post-Beatles tour, John Lennon plays what will be his last show ever with an in-his-prime Elton John and fucking Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks join Fleetwood Mac!

Albums ar released from Bob Dylan, Deep Purple, Badfinger, Van Morrison, Areatha Franklin, Lou Reed, T. Rex, Frank Zappa, The Hollies, Johnny Cash, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Kinks, Bad Company, Neil Young, James Brown, Joe Cocker, Leonard Cohen, The Who, Slade and my god even The Rolling Stones. If 2014 is anything like 1974, I think we ought to give up on living now and be done with it. But sadly, I know it won't be as rich or as wonderful as '74. Every generation thinks the last had it better and I'm sorry Lester, but you really didn't know what you had in front of you. Maybe that is the point Cameron Crowe is trying to make. Even those who were bang in the middle, didn't know what they had lucked into.

As we follow William further and further into his rock rabbit hole, we realise it's all about trying to be cool, wishing you were cool, thinking you are and ultimately not being cool at all. The people who think they are - the fictitious band Stillwater - are desperately trying to keep up an image that just isn't true and never has been. Frequently comparing themselves to their idols, they talk about the myth of all guitarists and singers hated each other. Page and Plant. Jagger and Richards. One was to the be the charismatic frontman and one had the mystique. The idea that they need to discuss this instead of letting it happen organically shows that even the coolest of people are striving and failing to be that ineffable thing - cool.

In one of the first roles I saw PSH in, he is completely phenomenal. He was a force for good, in this film and in his life. The two conversations Lester and William have together that bookend the film are a glorious study in acting and screenwriting. In the first scene in the diner Bangs is playing his role - how he wishes he was percieved. He is loud, opinionated, full of over the top advice and gestures. He is who William wishes he could be. He has all the stories, he knows all the bands and we, like William, hang on his words, wishing we were part of this world, unbelieving that someone as cool as Bangs would take the time to let us in and share the secrets. In the second conversation towards the films end William is broken, exhausted and at his most vulnerable. The pretence is gone and truths are finally spoken. Lester offers William the same advice he did earlier - "be honest and unmerciful" - but this time its not to be a cool journalist or to create an image or maintain a reputation, it's for Williams sanity and the only way to be true to himself and the band. In what is the soul of the film, Lester half whispers, sharing his ultimate truth - "The only currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone when you're being uncool".

I think the film resonates so much to me because of Cameron Crowe's experiences. I remember reading that this is a semi-autobiographical film, but I don't think that's true. Yeah, his name has been changed to William and the band is fictional, but I believe every moment in one way or another happened to Crowe or someone close to him. The rock stars are too self absorbed, shallow and fragile to be made up. The Band-Aids are too beautiful and dream-like to be imagined. Because as a shy fifteen year old, who wouldn't fall madly in love with Kate Hudson's ethereal Penny Lane?

To me, this film is perfect. It captures a moment in time I feel like I know so well, and yet know nothing at all. He makes me nostalgic for things I never even knew I was missing.

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