Welcome to Earthling Cinema, where we examine the last remaining artifacts of a once-proud culture and try to understand what human lives were like before their planet was destroyed. I’m your host, Garyx Wormuloid.
Almost Famous (2000) | Directed by: Cameron Crowe | Starring: Billy Crudup, Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson
Written by: Ben Steiner
Analysis & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Starring: Mark Schroeder
Edited by: Ryan Hailey
Original Music by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Opening Animation by: Danny Rapaport
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon
Almost Famous Analyzed By Aliens
Welcome Earthling Cinema. I am your host, Garyx Wormuloid. This week’s artifact is Almost Famous, written and directed by Sheryl Crow.
Our protagonist is William Miller, a teen-aged human who loves using his ears to listen to rock and roll music, which is a very broad genre that has essentially become meaningless. He meets a rock journalist named Lester Bangs, who hires William to write an article for him, because that’s how easy the job market was on Earth. This attracts the attention of The Rolling Stones magazine, most famous for their issue “Exile on Main Street.” They ask William to profile an up-and-coming band called Stillwater despite not knowing who he is or anything about his background, and just like that, off he goes. He tries to keep it professional, but he quickly gets sucked into the “riding around on a bus” lifestyle and falls in love with a groupie named Penny Lane.
The band has a series of adventures involving electric shocks, t- shirts, and swimming pools, and apparently they never really need to practice their songs. Eventually the band ditches the groupies and upgrades their bus to an airplane, which is too scary for them, despite being slower than the speed of light. Penny Lane gets upset and takes too many quaaludes — that’s ludes to you and me — and William sexually assaults her on the lips while he waits for the medic to arrive.
William submits his story, but the editors don’t like it because it’s on napkins. Then he rewrites it in one night and everyone likes it. Writing is just that easy.
Almost Famous is a movie about image and perception. More specifically, it’s about what is real vs. what is cool. Unfortunately, it’s not about ice cream, which is both real and cool. During the 20th century, humans liked to create fantasy worlds for themselves in order to escape reality and enhance their own image. Coolness was the fantasy [William’s sister: “One day you’re going to be cool.”], and by extention, authenticity was inherently uncool. Nowhere is this more apparent than on a rock and roll band music bus tour.
Penny Lane is a walking, talking alter ego. She lies about her age and won’t even say her real name, which, of course, is Kate Hudson. She keeps telling William they should travel to a planet called Morocco together and “act like different people and wear different clothes.” She also frequently refers to their rock and roll life as being separate from “the real world” [One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest characters as cast of The Real World], presumably referring to Earth.
The band members are even more obsessed with their image [Jeff: “I’m the front man and you’re the guitarist with mystique. That’s the dynamic we agreed on.”]. They freak out about how they appear on the t- shirts, since they’re actually much taller in real life. Russell keeps putting off his interview with William, telling him in a cool way, “Hey just make us look cool.” They refer to William as “the enemy” because they’re afraid he’ll reveal that they’re just as flawed and genetically inferior as all humans, which will ruin the mystique. When they finally see William’s story, Jeff complains that they look like amateurs. Russell responds, “Maybe we don’t see ourselves the way we really are.” They are suspended in fantasy because that’s what the cools do.
After the fight over the t-shirts, Russell decides he’s “only interested in what’s real,” but then at the party, he still can’t be authentic. He anoints himself a “golden god,” which is the most valuable type of god per ounce. He denies the validity of the article because he can’t face his reality. It is only after he admits his feelings for Penny that he is able to make good with William and finally expose himself in the interview [“What do you like about music?” “Everything.”]. How insightful. The most authentic person in the movie is William’s mother, a college professor who always speaks her mind, something they teach you to do at college. Indeed, her lack of artifice is so alien to human society that it freaks people out [montage of all the people saying she freaked them out]. Her influence is apparent in William, as even though he is the youngest person on the tour, he’s the only one with any connection to reality. He yells at the band for saying they’re all about the fans, then discarding Penny, who is their biggest fan, despite never displaying any knowledge of their back catalogue. William tells Penny to “Wake up” and that Russell doesn’t care about her. He chastises her for talking about Planet Morocco when in reality “There is no Morocco.” At least, not that astronomers have been able to locate. When Penny makes the resolution to actually go to Morocco at the end, she is finally being authentic — making good on her fantasy of intergalactic space travel.
The band also drops the act and says how they really feel, but only when they think they’re about to die. Many suspect this is the reason airplanes were invented.
In the end, being cool isn’t important. Not for us, and not for humans, especially now. As Lester says, “The only currency in a bankrupt world is what we share with someone when we’re uncool.” If we are “honest and unmerciful,” good things will happen. Now I’m gonna go home and do a bunch of ludes before my wife gets off work.
For Earthling Cinema, I’m Garyx Wormuloid. If you’re cool, prove it by hitting the subscribe button.