Monday, November 9, 2009

Missed Touchstones Week: Almost Famous

This week, I'm watching movies that everyone else my age has seen and loves. Okay, I may never have seen Almost Famous, but at least I've seen a lot of musicals from the first year of talkies. And a pretty good selection of rotten horror flicks that are only available on VHS. So there!

Anyway, everybody loves Almost Famous, right? I understand there's a scene where a number of people sing an Elton John song on a bus, and it's very emotionally affecting. Going into the movie, I really only know "Tiny Dancer" as the theme song to my old Bar Trivia team. Good times.

Your first question is why I never saw it. Well, I don't know. I like Cameron Crowe okay. I even like Lester Bangs, although I think his writing was a bad influence on generations of pop culture writers who confused attitude with talent. Also, I'm pretty sure he thought it was funny to take some terrible piece of crap band and make them sound like the coolest thing in the world just to see if he could make people buy the record. Don't get me wrong; he was a great writer, it's just that -- actually, I could go on for quite some time about Lester Bangs, and this is about Almost Famous. Which I've never seen. Until today.

I did try watching the DVD once a couple of years ago, but I only got about twenty minutes in before I got bored and antsy and turned it off. It was when Kate Hudson first showed up. I remember I found her first couple of lines as the groupie to be intensely annoying.

This turns out not to have been a fluke: I still find her insufferably obnoxious. I could do with a good deal less of her. She's trying way too hard. She's completely fake. And maybe it's the character that's trying too hard, not the actress. That happens sometimes. But everyone in the movie finds her adorable and magnetic and fantastic, which does not match my personal reaction, which is basically "Why would anyone spend time with this person?" Frankly, I did not find her to be a blithe free spirit, flitting hither and yon and bestowing magical fairy dust on every scene. Or whatever it is people see in her. Even in her big scenes, she doesn't work for me.

You know what she's like? Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The Aaron Sorkin show that wasn't anywhere near as interesting as 30 Rock? Everyone on that show acted like the show-within-a-show was brilliant and groundbreaking, but we could clearly tell that it was awful, because it turns out that while Aaron Sorkin can write dialogue like nobody's business, he can't write a convincing sketch comedy show. Penny Lane is like that. The character I see and the character the rest of the movie sees are severely at odds. And I don't think it's on purpose.

I did enjoy the movie as a whole, though. The non-groupie parts of it. It's fun to have a movie that hides everyone under silly Seventies wigs and facial hair so every new character comes with thirty seconds of "...that guy sounds really familiar. Who is that? Is that ... Jimmy Fallon? I think it is!" And it's just enough of a period piece that parts of it feel quaint. Like, remember when bands didn't get their first T-shirt until after they'd already opened for Black Sabbath and went on a tour? These days, you print up your first shirts on CafePress five minutes after you settle on a band name.

Incidentally, almost the first shot is in Balboa Park, driving past the Museum of Man. I approve of movies that feature Balboa Park. Although the only other one I can think of is Citizen Kane, which uses it for the exteriors of Xanadu (the stately home of Charles Foster Kane) in the newsreel at the beginning.

Oh: The "Tiny Dancer" scene works. Darned if I know why, though. Cameron Crowe's good at putting songs to scenes, is my theory.

1 comment:

Chris Rywalt said...

I've never seen Almost Famous. I just re-read a whole bunch of Lester Bangs (thanks to Ben and his post about Black Sabbath not too long ago on Infinite Monkeys) and re-reading the introduction the editor says Philip Seymour Hoffman almost gets Bangs' attitude right, and that made me think, hey, maybe I should download Almost Famous.

But then I realized I have a lot of other stuff I mean to get to -- some Hammer horror, Nosferatu (original and remake), Blade Runner for the umpteenth time, Last Man on Earth, Shatner's "Twilight Zone" episodes. And suddenly Almost Famous seems entirely unnecessary to my development as a film snob.