The Final Scene looks at the last few minutes of some of the most well-known movies of the past fifty years. In this edition, we're looking at Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age music drama, 'Almost Famous', which turns 20 today...
It's hard not to watch 'Almost Famous' and be nostalgic. Nostalgia is, very often, a place and a time that doesn't really exist in the real world. It's borne out of a wish for things that never were, a kind of hope for how things should have gone, not how they actually went. Not only that, 'Almost Famous' specifically traffics in a kind of nostalgia that will hook some people and revile others. It really does depend on where and when you are in your life if it has an impact.
I know, because I saw 'Almost Famous' when I was 16, lost and without an idea of what to do with my life, and it made me want to be a journalist. I'm 34 now, and have been working as a professional arts journalist and critic for the past ten years, and I can't watch 'Almost Famous' the same way. The type of journalism that William Miller gets to take part in and write about doesn't exist anymore, at least not in this part of the world.
This might seem like jaded journalist talk, and perhaps it is. The fact is that whether it's writing about movies, music, TV, fashion, food, art, pop culture, whatever - trying to interview people in today's world, to get them to really open up and talk, just doesn't happen. Sure, you'll see interviews with US outlets where subjects conduct multiple days-long interviews that reveal all sorts of wonderful insights that never, ever come to the surface in typical interviews.
These are truly rare. They weren't always so, of course. Maybe it's the fact that publicists and artists are now more guarded than ever, and so careful of things being misconstrued or taken out of context. It could also be that they all share so willingly with the world through social media, in a way which they control, that it leaves no room for them to be honest with readers and audiences. That's the job of a journalist, though. To get them to talk about something they don't want to talk about, or confront something in their work, something that doesn't necessarily fit in with their own self-created narrative.
'Almost Famous' is a movie, when you come right down to it, is about people living in a world they've created wholly for themselves. Kate Hudson's character has convinced herself that she's not being used by Stillwater, and has changed her name to Penny Lane because why not name herself after a Beatles song. Jason Lee's character, when confronted with his own quotes, angrily remarks that he sounds "like a dick". Even William Miller, the ardent journalist, lied to Rolling Stone about his age.
It's a movie that's based on lying, so it's no wonder that the final moments tries to unravel all of this - even if it is completely unrealistic.
To be fair to director Cameron Crowe, he's leaning into it. The unresolved issues, the way in which Russell Hammond - played exquisitely by Billy Crudup - has evaded truth and responsibility for so long, the fact that William Miller finally gets the interview he wanted - it's wish fulfilment. Everything he didn't get to do, everything left unsaid and unresolved, gets neatly tied off as he clicks on his recorder, pulls out the microphone, and the willing interview subject leans into begin his testimony, all while Led Zeppelin's 'Tangerine' strikes up and calls out a chorus of living reflections from a dream.
Me watching that at 16, getting people to open up and talk to me as truthfully and honestly, to share their process and their art and work, to show me how they did it and why, that was it for me. That's what made me want to be a journalist. Did I get there? Did an actor or director turn up in my house when I was half-asleep and give me a soul-bearing interview?
Of course not. That doesn't happen in real-life. It only happens in movies.