The Top Ten (or so) Films of the Decade: #9 Almost Famous (Crowe, 2000)
I was a very young rock and roll journalist when this movie– about a very young rock and roll journalist– was released, and I saw enough of myself in this picture to become immediately convinced that I’d just seen my favorite film ever— a movie that seemed to reflect my tastes, my experiences, my values about as well as any film possibly could.
The initial shock of self-recognition has faded, but my love for Almost Famous abides, because, of course, there’s a lot more to the picture than a few eerie glimpses of a younger Josh Hurst. That said, what floors me about this film hasn’t changed much in the past ten years: This is a tight, clear narrative that leaves ample space in which the viewer can find himself. The film is many things– a road movie, a coming-of-age story, a family portrait, an autobiography, a rock and roll picture, a mainstream-ish dramedy that, in an alternate universe, one can easily imagine raking in the Oscars– but what people remember about it aren’t the genre signifieres, but the characters and the little grace notes.
It is also, by the way, a period piece, though, curiously, I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard anyone describe it in these terms. That Crowe renders this world with a journalist’s eye for detail is no surprise, given how closely this movie mirrors his own life experience, but it’s so much more than a recreation of 1970s rock and roll fashion: It is, more crucially, a movie about fashion and the ways in which we transcend it, a story of people engulfed in a culture that’s obsessed with the shallow and the fleeting, people who nevertheless find their way to something true, meaningful, lasting.
That’s the brilliance of Almost Famous: As much as I sincerely love the music and the period detail, the things that stay with me are the ones that ring in my ears as true and universal. There are Penny Lane’s solitary dance, lonely but full of grace; Lester Bangs’ truism about the fleeting nature of popularity and the enduring value of friendship; William Miller’s mother and her conflicted emotions, worrying about him but ultimately trusting that she raised him right.
As for the rock and roll: I still think “Fever Dog” is a kickass song.