At the climatic moment of Cameron Crowe seminal film “Almost Famous” (released 20 years ago today), the out-of-his-league young reporter William Miller realises a fatal journalistic flaw he committed while on the phone with his mentor. Miller’s misstep wasn’t a misquote or fudged fact but simply his misguidence into thinking he was cool.
“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool,” the cynical and legendary rock critic Lester Bangs, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, explains to his pupil.
“I’m glad you were home,” William admits.
“I’m always home!” Bangs responds. “I’m uncool!”
Based on a cultural movement often correlated with drug use, excess and larger-than-life egos, Crowe’s film has endured as a premier relic of the 1970s for its dive into the softer side of rock and roll’s pinnacle.
Upon its release, diehards who lived through the mid 70s rock scene were prepared to tear through yet another garish portrayal of an era whose spirit and energy was increasingly difficult to posthumously capture. The shock value from “Almost Famous” didn’t derive from a raw portrayal of sex and drugs but rather from a surprisingly earnest exploration into finding love, a sense of belonging and identity while in the thick of a rock and roll tour.
Based on Crowe’s real life experience writing for Rolling Stone magazine as a teenager, the film strips back a surface level definition of 70s ‘cool’ using the music, media and fashion of the decade to showcase the eclectic characters within hippie and rock culture.
Crowe’s own collection of photographs from his reporting days were used as style inspiration for costume designer Besty Heimann. Philip Seymour Hoffman even wore one of the director’s vintage merch tees from the band The Guess Who as well as a replica “Detroit Sucks” tee made famous by the late rock reviewer Lester Bangs.
The dichotomy of the rock star can be seen through the outfits within the fictional central band “Stillwater” which included leather jackets worn by outlaw lead guitarist Russell Hammond and lead singer Jeff Bebe who wears band tees showcasing his own face. The free-spirited but emotionally warm and protective Penny Lane wears an iconic fur coat which was constructed using a rug from Urban Outfitters, according to Entertainment Weekly.
The balances within William during his journey oscillate as he attempts to find his place within a rising but volatile band, a pairing that is reflective of the greater cultural movement in which the film is taking place. As he becomes too close to the subjects whose fate he will ultimately decide, falls too in love with a girl he knows he will never have and becomes too intoxicated with the fly on the wall cool of his surroundings, the film itself begins to question his journey.
“I have to go home,” William explains to Penny while on a tour bus tugging him further and further from his roots.
In-tune with the rest of the bus sentimentally singing along to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”, Penny muse responds with a wisp, opening her hand in his face.
“You are home.”