Wednesday, September 26, 2018

ALMOST FAMOUS Is Almost A Musical

It was one of my favorite films of 2000.  A number of reputable film critics put it on their lists of favorites of that year too.  ALMOST FAMOUS brought Cameron Crowe an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.  I still feel that he should have received more than that one Oscar nomination.  ALMOST FAMOUS should have been an Oscar nominee for Best Picture and he should have been a nominee for Best Director.  I love that movie so much.  First of all, it accurately and lovingly reflects the world of rock music as it was when I landed my first professional broadcast job after I graduated from college.  I worked as a newsreader on WFQM Radio, an FM rock radio station in Milwaukee.  This was when we young people still listened to rock radio, had record players, hung out at record stores and could get a good ticket to a rock concert for under $20.00.  Cameron Crowe was a young, smart and passionate writer for Rolling Stone magazine, a publication that the DJs at WQFM considered to be as important as the Bible.  Crowe's screenplay is a valentine to those days and to the world of rock music before it became a corporate product, if you will.
I first saw ALMOST FAMOUS at a preview screening in a packed New York City theater.  The audience was so vibrantly connected to it. Being in that audience was a thrill and a reminder that seeing a movie is often best when enjoyed on a big screen with an audience that is emotionally invested and giving the film its full attention. When seeing a movie is a community experience like that, it's rich.  You could feel the audience fall in love with the "Tiny Dancer" bus scene, one of the highlights of the film.  The applause and cheers the end from that New York City audience made me sure the film company had something very special in its possession.
Frances McDormand played the mother of the teen journalist. Marvelous. She hit a home-run in her every scene as the widowed school teacher mother in Southern California who states that "Adolescence is a marketing tool."  She is a force.  She's forthright, fearless and, above all, loving.  I nearly gasped when first I saw her.  I had a high school teacher exactly like that.  Mrs. Ogren taught History.  She was a "civilian" teacher at our all boys Catholic high school in Watts.  She was a fascinating character who dressed just like Frances McDormand did in ALMOST FAMOUS.  Remember the funny confrontation the schoolteacher mother had with her outspoken teen daughter about Simon & Garfunkel?  My divorced mother and my sister had the same argument about the same Simon & Garfunkel album the schoolteacher mom holds up.  Frances McDormand and Kate Hudson were both in the Best Supporting Actress Oscar race.  Has Kate Hudson had another role as good, a role that brought out her radiance the way the Penny Lane role did in ALMOST FAMOUS? Has she?
I did a one-hour interview of Cameron Crowe before a live audience before ALMOST FAMOUS opened nationwide.  We did that in New York City which is why I attended the preview.  By the way, I paid to see the movie at least three times again after it opened.  That's how much I loved it.

I once read an interview of the famed writer/director Billy Wilder. He said that if a screenwriter wrote one line that audiences could remember and quote through the years, then the writer had done the job well.  He then went on the make his point with high praise for CASABLANCA.  Needless to say, Billy Wilder was also a master at that job.  Wilder was a hero and mentor to Cameron Crowe.

ALMOST FAMOUS is not only a valentine to a golden age of rock music and its fans, it's also a valentine to Billy Wilder's art -- especially his classic, THE APARTMENT.  In Crowe's trailer before the interview, we met and I went fan-boy on him with my affection for his film.  I also remarked, "Penny Lane has Fran Kubelik quality about her."  Fran Kubelik is the character Shirley MacLaine played in THE APARTMENT. A big smile broke across Cameron's face and he replied, "That's what I was going for."
If you watch ALMOST FAMOUS again, notice that it does have a strong similarity to Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT.  Two guys want the same girl.  Heartbreak triggers her to take a handful of pills.  One of those guys must learn to become "a mensch."  Shirley MacLaine stars with Jack Lemmon and Fred MacMurray in THE APARTMENT.

Cameron Crowe wrote a book about his conversations with Billy Wilder.  In our on-camera conversation, Cameron told that the late, legendary Hollywood filmmaker, then in his 90s, saw ALMOST FAMOUS.
I'd love to interview Crowe again.  I read in entertainment news reports that he is now writing the book for a stage musical version of his 2000 Oscar-winning movie.  There's no word on casting yet, but reports project that the stage musical version will be Broadway-bound.

"It's all happening!"  Break a leg, Cameron Crowe.



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