Then a funny thing happens. When it's time to write this thing up, I can't get Lester Bangs out of my head. Not the Lester Bangs whose writing influenced a generation of rock critics, but the Lester Bangs who's played so well by Philip Seymour Hoffman in this movie; the Lester Bangs of Crowe's memory. In the movie, this Lester Bangs advises 15-year-old Crowe stand-in William Miller (Patrick Fugit) NOT to make friends with rock stars because that would taint his journalistic voice. "You must build your reputation on being honest and unmerciful," he says. He'd probably tell me not to befriend movie directors, too. Crap.
It would be wrong to skip over my criticisms of Almost Famous on the off-chance that Crowe would read it, call me up, and take me out for drinks. The truth is this movie is nothing more and nothing less than a light and entertaining crowd-pleaser. Which is fine. Be sure to see it early in its run in a packed theater. It's just that, for a rock 'n' roll tour film set in 1973, the content comes across as soclean. When I tell him the story feels like R-rated content in a PG-13 package, he says, "I think you're suggesting it either has the courage or the lack of courage not to be openly corrosive. Am I right or wrong?" Of course he's right, and I feel like a cynical bastard.
He continues, "The point is that I was there and saw sexual abuse, TVs going out the window--all that stuff. I observed enough of that era to say its poetry is under-represented. I never got into a song because I knew a guy was on heroin. What I haven't seen is something that waves the flag for fandom. That's what I tried to do with this movie." Yes, the spirit of fandom permeates Almost Famous, particularly through the Miller character and the "Band Aids," a group of girls touring with the band who see themselves more as muses than groupies. But the Lester Bangs character balances them out with his own brand of fandom: a love of music tinged with cynicism, regret, and doom.
Crowe wrote about music for nearly a decade before transitioning into film, so I ask what he sees as the difference between the two. "Music is more powerful to me," he says. "Music is somebody leading you to the cliff and saying, 'Jump,' whereas movies tend to be more arrogant, saying, 'I have bled to bring you my glorious view of love.'"
Asked how he sees himself as a director, he responds, "Starting to get more visual, which is exciting. I want to tell the story more with the camera, but with a lack of pretension in the presentation. That was one of the great lessons of Billy Wilder. He's a genius at visuals, but said, 'Too much clouds the story and the characters.' In the era of quick cuts and unmotivated camera movement, it's good to remember 94-year-old Wilder saying, 'Tell the story with the camera. The rest is garbage.'" Oh, who am I kidding? I want to be friends with Cameron Crowe.