An unknown author once remarked that “music is what feelings sound like”. This is a very abstract but telling truth about music. Music and lyrics can literally be identified as a pathway into the soul of the musician. Many may say that music is capable of freeing the soul, and as a result has the ability to captivate us all through its majestic melodies. So, in more ways than one, it is not about listening to music but rather it is about the embrace and feeling of it.
It is crucial to understand the basic concepts behind the importance of music because in Almost Famous, the music is the true star of the film. Yes, the performances are stellar and critical to the overall impact of this filmic gem, but it is the music incorporated within which fuels and drives it.
In fact, the greatest scene in the film (and my favourite scene of all time), comes at a time when there is a large amount of dissension within the band Stillwater. While on tour, many embittered truths have been revealed between the band members. Hostile and angry, the band refuses to speak to one another. During a bus trip to their next concert location, the band, and other members of the tour, sit solemnly silent in their own little worlds. As this scene plays out, Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’ drifts nomadically throughout the cabin of the bus. After a few tense but silent moments, one of the members of the band begins to sing along with the lyrics. Soon after, another member joins in. Eventually the entire bus becomes a harmonizing choir. Without any spoken verbal dialogue, these people are reconnected through the power and essence of music itself. It is one of the most telling and poignant moments in film history and indicative of the role music can play in our lives.
Almost Famous is more than just a musically fuelled spectacle, however. The film has heart and challenges itself to tackle themes crucial to the understanding of these characters. It deals with the loss of innocence, loneliness, acceptance and the idea of identity. It is a coming of age story which strives to delve deep into the inner emotions of the characters presented to us, the viewer.
Issues of Identity
Ex-Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain once said: “Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are”. Strong and prophetic words from an artist who strived to remain true to himself even in the face of fame and success
As was the case in Dazed and Confused (1993), this film is about a lost generation attempting to come to grips with who they truly are. In most coming of age stories (and through the pains of adolescence), there is a tremendous struggle to define who one truly is. As we follow the exploits of fifteen year old William Miller (who is attempting to write an article for Rolling Stone magazine), the viewer is permitted a glimpse into the struggles and upheavals that this character must deal with. He does not possess a stable identity and struggles, as a result, to discover the essence of his true self. For example, in one of the most engaging sequences of the film, he fabricates the truth about his age to Kate Hudson’s character, ‘Penny Lane’. She asks him how old he is and he responds with: “eighteen”. She says: “me too”. He then states that he is seventeen. She again responds with: “me too”. He then corrects himself once again and notes that he is sixteen and she immediately responds with “me too”. He then ends this irreverent dialogue sequence with: “actually I’m fifteen”. This scene is quite amusing, but it is a telling statement about the instability of these two characters identities.
To further complicate matters for William is that in order to secure this writing assignment, he must lie to Rolling Stone about his age. Adding to his deception, he even goes as far as to employ a fake voice to trick them into accepting him as someone he is not; a college graduate.
The role of ‘Penny Lane’ is played with an innocent charm by Hudson, but her character may be the most complicated of them all. The fact that she conceals her age from William is very important, but it is in her refusal to provide her real name that is extremely troublesome. The fact that she is a mere sixteen years old indicates that she is presently battling through the same trials and tribulations of William. She may believe that she has a strong understanding of herself but she is sadly mistaken. She is pretending to be someone she is not (the fact that she uses a Beatles song as her name further indicates her lack of defining character). Her entire appearance is a lie but she conceals these misrepresentations with a falsified persona.
In this regard, the characters of William and Penny are crucial to one another. It is through Penny that William comes to terms with who he is while simultaneously Penny discovers through William that her initial perception of herself has been an outright lie. It is only when she accepts who she truly is, that she is able to divulge her true name to William. To sum it up, both of these characters find themselves through the imperfections of the other.
In fact, every key character of this film goes through some sort of identification struggle. During a scene where a potential plane crash may occur, every member on the plane expresses some sort of truth about him/herself that they have kept hidden away. As well, throughout most of the film there is a great conflict between the lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) and lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), and the issues of whom they truly are and who they truly appear to be. However, by the end of the film, the characters who have struggled to define themselves have come to some sort of understanding of who they are. They have learned from one another (many have actually learned from William who is a true catalyst for their growth) and have accepted it. They are no longer characterized by any sort of superficiality but rather by a defined reality.
Director Cameron Crowe delicately touches on these issues that are important to the growth of the human being. He never condemns nor romanticizes the characters in the film and refuses to tamper with their vulnerability as individuals struggling to understand