HBO is showing Almost Famous, a candy-colored re-imagined semi-autobiographical fantasy by Cameron Crowe (certainly more honest and truthful than his even more candy-colored '90s post-teenage fantasies, from Say Anything to Singles to Jerry Maguire), and it's not that great a film: it's a fantasy, as Dharmonia very aptly put it, of "something like what the '70s rock scene might have looked like to a 15-year-old on the outside."
It's really not that good, and a lot of the writing simultaneously panders and sentimentalizes (a Crowe speciality--even more when he's talking about his "own" adolescence on the road with rock bands), but it does have some decent acting: Jimmy Fallon as a sleazeball-but-effective tour manager and Jason Lee as a preening semi-talented front-man/vocalist (both of them type-cast and at the peak of their limited powers); Billy Crudup as the more-talented-than-the-rest guitar-slinger who at least looks the part--even though his "guitar faces" are pretty lame; Kate Hudson as the uber-groupie Penny Lane (limited, and stuck with some of Crowe's most dumbass writing and directing) but luminous nevertheless;
and it does have some great acting: in both bit parts (Eion Bailey and Terry Chen as two of the LA-wannabe-hipsters who founded Rolling Stone) and more major ones: Frances McDormand way outside her (brilliant) Coen Brothers bag as the mother of the young runaway-with-the-band would-journalist Crowe,
and, operating in a whole other artistic, expressive, and emotional universe, the great, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, maybe the greatest non-"star" actor of his generation (c'mon, what other actor has a comparable roster of absolutely definitive roles? Synecdoche, Charlie Wilson's War, Capote, Empire Falls, Cold Mountain, State and Main, Magnolia, Big Lebowski, Boogie Nights, and that's just the hits), playing the absolute greatest "rock" writer of them all, Lester Bangs.
I won't even call him a "rock critic"--that's to put him in the not-even-close company of Bob Christgau and Greil Marcus: not bad, but very much genre writers, striving desperately to find some way, as English majors or History majors or American Studies majors, to talk about music when they didn't actually know anything about music.
But Lester was different: he was unequivocally, unabashedly, unashamedly uncool (and self-destructive: see Let it Blurt, but that's another story). And you have to at least give it to Crowe, he does give the movie version of Lester the one great, and truly honest, speech about the difference between being a "rock star" and being a "rock fan" (in the midst of a lot of other lies and fantasies about the actual scuzziness of many people involved in the business in that decade):
Lester: That's because we're uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don't have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we're smarter....Great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love... and let's face it, you got a big head start.But if you really want to understand the greatness of Lester, then fuck the writing of wanna-be's like Cameron Crowe. Instead, go to the source: to what Lester himself had to say about some truly great music, Van Morrison's Astral Weeks:
I'm glad you were home.
I'm always home. I'm uncool.
It's the great search, fueled by the belief that through these musical and mental processes illumination is attainable. Or may at least be glimpsed.Only Lester could have linked Van the Man and Federico Garcia Lorca. Only Lester could have made me believe it:
My heart of silk
is filled with lights,
with lost bells,
with lilies and bees.
I will go very far,
farther than those hills,
farther than the seas,
close to the stars,
to beg Christ the Lord
to give back the soul I had
of old, when I was a child,
ripened with legends,
with a feathered cap
and a wooden sword.Federico Garcia LorcaRIP LCB (1948-82).