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"ALMOST FAMOUS": REMEMBRANCE OF GIGS PAST

Crowe’s New Autobiopic Captures
A Time and A Place
by Simon Glickman and Roy Trakin

The biz was out in force for last night's screening of Cameron Crowe's bittersweet, semi-autobiographical flick "Almost Famous" at L.A.'s Academy Theater. With its tender coming-of-age narrative, deep affection for what we now call "classic rock" and canny evocation of the period (the film's story unfolds in 1973), "Famous" is certainly a charmer, if a tad overlong and with some uneven characterization. A few elements are above reproach, however. These include the performances of Frances McDormand (as the Crowe character's overprotective, didactic mother) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (as original gonzo rock journalist Lester Bangs, portrayed here as a bit more lovably quirky and avuncular than he probably was) and the film's brilliant soundtrack, available on DreamWorks, which includes the first-ever licensed track from Led Zeppelin for a label other than their own. Also lending emotional weight to the feature—and making important narrative points--are songs by Joni Mitchell, the Beach Boys, Black Sabbath, The Stooges, Elton John, Simon & Garfunkel and Cat Stevens, among many others.

"Almost Famous" is literally a Portrait of the Rock Critic as a Young Man, telling Crowe's own story of being befriended and mentored by Bangs. The 15-year-old begins writing for Creem and Rolling Stone and is adopted by the rock bands he writes about. The film creates a fictional band, Stillwater, around which to structure this unusual tale of hard-won wisdom; their songs were co-written by Crowe and wife Nancy Wilson, and their musical leader/guitarist, Russell, is limned with smoldering appeal by Billy Crudup. Figuring prominently in the mix are the "Band-Aids," groupies who are true music fans and appear to have been modeled in part on The GTOs. They're led by Penny Lane (winningly played by Goldie Hawn's daughter Kate Hudson and unabashedly based on creative consultant—and Crowe pal—Peter Frampton's longtime old lady Penny), who's drawn self-destructively to Russell's lovelight. There's also Stillwater's rough-and-tumble Brit manager (Noah Taylor), hilariously overdrawn Rolling Stone editors Ben Fong-Torres, David Felton and Jann Wenner and a picaresque assemblage of music-biz types, hotel managers, stoned teens and other inhabitants of what Russell calls "The Circus." Kinda like "Spinal Tap," except with a more philosophical, elegaic bent.

The movie marvelously captures a period when rock & roll was more than just music but a culture and lifestyle all its own, a rite of passage for Crowe and his generation, perfectly captured when a youngster lovingly flips through a treasure-trove of seminal album covers— "Pet Sounds," "Axis: Bold As Love," "Get Yer Ya-Yas Out," "Blue."

Moments like this left the industry-heavy crowd sighing in recognition, but the real question is, will this valentine to classic rock be able to find a mainstream audience that has so far abandoned intelligent, music-based films of recent vintage like "High Fidelity" and "Still Crazy"? That question will be answered when the film opens nationwide Sept. 20.

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