Thursday, November 08, 2007

"Almost famous": Matriarchy on the rocks

"Let's analyze some of the symbols from "Almost Famous" (2000) or its more extended version "Untitled: Almost Famous - The Director's Cut" (Two-Disc Special Edition) (2001) beyond its popular façade of a love letter and sentimental ode to rock and roll by Cameron Crowe, who before becoming a director he began writing music reviews and worked as a journalist on the road for Rolling Stone magazine when he was just a 15 years old student in Palm Springs, California.

Not only Crowe has been a well documented rock and roll writer —he submitted the liner notes for various rock classic albums as "Biograph" of Bob Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "One More From The Road" or Led Zeppelin's "The Song Remains The Same"- he also turned into an interesting writer/director of generational films as his debut "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982), "Say Anything" (1989) or "Singles" (1992) about growing up and conflictive relationships using a confessed influence of Billy Wilder's humanism.

And "Almost Famous" wasn't an exception in the Crowe's modus operandi, for starters, this coming of age story inside the rock and roll circuit shares many of his usual marks, for example, "Almost Famous" has a scene in an airport and other inside a plane entering a zone of turbulence, other of his previous films as Say anything, Singles or Jerry Maguire had scenes in airports or airplanes too. Another constant in Crowe's filmic work has been drawing in script very humane and special femenine characters, and in "Almost Famous" he would reach his maximum creation in the delusional groupie Penny Lane, being Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst) in "Elizabethtown" (2005)

a very competent runner-up and a sort of Penny Lane's doppelgänger, although withouth the first's self-destructive edge.

Focusing on "Almost famous" we happen to know enough well Cameron Crowe's strange teenage years, due to the semibiographical nature of the story through the central character William Miller, the 15 years old student and precociouswriter of rock and roll pieces, performed by a baby face doe-eyed Patrick Fugit in his first major role. He is a regular guy although he tends to feel different from his school mates, mainly in cause of the oppressive rules at home dictated by his widow mother Elaine Miller (Frances McDormand) who has already alienated William's sister Anita (Zooey Deschanel), a rebellious girl also devoted to rock and roll style. When Anita decides to get out of home with her boyfriend she gives her entire collection of records to the naïve William, who allievates his stressing Oedipal life under Elaine's puritane codes listening to them in his bedroom at night.

Then a very important character appears in William's world, the infamous rock critic Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who can relate to William perfectly: Bangs' mother was a Jehovah's Witness and his father had died when he was young. In 1969, Bangs began writing freelance after reading an advertisement in "Rolling Stone" soliciting readers' reviews. His first piece was a negative review of the MC5's album Kick Out The Jams, which was published. Bangs was fired from Rolling Stone in 1973 by Jann Wenner over a negative review of Canned Heat. Bangs moved to Detroit to edit the legendary magazine Creem, which is shown in the movie read enthusiastically by William, so when both writers meet, the connection is instantly produced after chatting about Lou Reed's missteps (Lester's allegiance with the ex-leader of The Velvet Underground came from 1968 in San Diego) and Lester Bangs becomes William's mentor.

William is going to need Bangs' advice about rock and roll lifestyle and the dangers of "the industry of cool", because he's suddenly hired by Rolling Stone to cover a new group called Stillwater which is on the road looking for success and their band leaders, Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) and Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) want William to act as a promotional scribe for the group, although he's often mistrusted and defined as "the enemy" because William is really an objective witness of this modest rock band struggling and touring with a homely manager Dick Roswell (Noah Taylor), and only supported by their fanbase and the band-aids, three groupie girls who accompany them on tour, underaged women who use nicknames as Polexia Aphrodisia (Anna Paquin), Sapphire (Fairuza Balk) and Estrella Starr (Bijou Phillips), friends with the queen bee of the band-aids, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson).

William cannot help developing a love interest towards the enigmatic Penny Lane, who refuses to tell him her real name and who has designed a glamorous unreal world inhabited by her fantasies and filled with booze, drug use, a bohemian vamp wardrobe and promiscuous sex with rock stars. Penny uses William's bond with Lester Bangs as the excuse to approach Stillwater's members and befriend them, esspecially Russell, the egocentric and talented front-man, whilst Polexia will be Jeff's girlfriend on the road; one night in the boring city Greenville William loses his virginity to all the groupies and the day after he feels so disoriented emotionally that he cries sitting in front of the locked up doors of the love nest that is the hotel room shared by Penny and Russell, unable to reconcile his mother's moral teachings with his recent experience in an amoral world of carefree sex.

We get to see more inter-band fights for the power and the increasing decadence of all the characters travelling in a bus named Doris, although this gritty side is made up greatly through the sweet scene of the musicians, the girls and Williamsinging together Elton John's song "Tiny Dancer" after a crazy party in the suburbs of Topeka.

Crowe shows us the rock and roll circus as a male dominated scenario, which ironically can serve as an insufficient outlet from the patriarchal society whom pretends is rebelling against, but in her own way Penny Lane becomes a symbol of a new matriarchal alternative that is formed in her mind and that clashes with the corporate machismo from managers and rockers, instauring instead a complex femenine world whose rules belong to her but are rewritten continually, which few of her friends can understand, only William ends loving Penny accepting her faults and her personal decline in this intoxicated environment, saving her when she tries to overdose herself with champagne and Quaaludes in The Plaza hotel in N.Y.; now in the next scene in the park Penny Lane, the frivolous groupie, has died, and a new girl, real and frail, appears before our hallucinated eyes.
Penny Lane needed to believe she loved Russell to not think she was her groupie and William needs to believe he loves Penny as well in order to keep believing in rock and roll. The farewell scene between a deteriorated Penny looking through a small blurry window on the plane waving to William who frantically starts to run from a terminal window to another terminal window afraid of losing her is one of the most romantic moments in modern cinema, the realization of a dream who won't repeat ever more and she placing her outstretched fingers on the window watching William running through her hand becomes a moment of knowledge for these atemporal characters from a chaotic past era definitely lost.
"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool," Lester Bangs says to a confused William who must decide if to write the truth or a fabrication of his story with Stillwater, and the moral that all of us learn in the end is maybe the coolest people use to choose to be not cool, because the uncool people are smarter.

In similar demythification lines, as Lester Bangs wrote once about his biggest musical hero: "Lou Reed is my hero because he stands for all the fucked up things that I could ever possibly conceive of -which probably only shows the limits of my imagination".

Published yesterday in
and also included in the Strange Culture November's Blog-a-thon "Film and Faith".

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Jake & Reese from Brentswood to L.A.

November 4 - Leaving Reese's Home In Brentwood.November 6 - Out For Breakfast With Reese In LA. Pictures courtesy by

Wednesday Kirsten's eye candy

Three stills of Kirsten as Mary Jane in "Spiderman 3" and from her photoshoot at Paris' Fashion Week - Chanel Spring/Summer 2008 Collection 05/10. Kirsten on the cover of Lula Magazine. Source:

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fingers on lips

Is Jessica Biel hot or what? Would she have good chemistry with Jake? I think so! Some fingers on/inside lips close ups and pictures of Jessica, and other screen-quakers, some of them even sexier than her: Natalie Portman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Roemer, Angelina Jolie, Jena Malone, Evan Rachel Wood, Megan Fox and Kate Moss.


"We now have another reason why Jessica Biel didn't want to take on Wonder Woman -- she wanted to jump in bed with Jake Gyllenhaal! The Hollywood Reporter has posted that Jake and Jessica (with names perfect for tabloid coupledom) have signed on to star in David O. Russell's latest film -- Nailed -- both the bed sort of nailing and the, well, nail sort of nailing. Not only that, but it is also getting another Gore into the movie biz -- O. Russell is co-writing the script with Al's daughter, Kristin Gore.

Coming from David O., this won't be your run-of-the-mill political satire. Biel will play "Sammy Joyce, a socially awkward small-town receptionist who has a nail accidentally shot into her head by a clumsy workman, eliciting wild sexual urges." It gets better: "The uninsured Joyce goes on a crusade to Washington to fight for the rights of the bizarrely injured. She meets an immoral congressman (Gyllenhaal) who takes advantage of her sex drive and capitalizes on her crusade as Joyce heads into her own career in politics."

Talk about having a ton of reasons to see this sucker. O. Russell makes some funny movies (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees), and has this really funny tendency to go apeshit on set. Remember? Then there's the next Gore entering the movie biz, which I hope will mean some inside info, rumors, political goodies masked in the script. Then there's Biel taking on a political comedy -- can she do it? And finally, Jake as a congressman. Pre-production begins this month, shooting starts in January, and maybe we'll get this just in time for the next Presidential election".

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Videos of "Rendition"

Jake on CBS 2 Entertainment talks about "Rendition" Source:

Gavin Hood, Jake and Reese in a video

Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday's eye candy

Rendition's magazine scans for U.S. Weekly.Télérama Magazine's photoshoot (Cannes 2007).Jake in a session by photographer Testino.