Friday, 3 August 2012

The words she knows, the tune she hums

A friend and I took in the Almost Famous director's cut at the Prince Charles Cinema on Monday. (I'll probably write something about the PCC another time - a cinema so lovely I applied for a job there. Sadly unsuccessful, hey ho.) Almost Famous is easily in my top 5 alltime films, but scandalously I'd never seen 'Untitled', as the director's cut is monikered in the opening credits.

What gets me about Almost Famous is the mood. It's a well-knit film, and all my favourite elements contribute to each other; Penny and her girls, their glorious 70s vintage gear, their knowing adolescent joie-de-vivre, their rose-tinted specs and polaroid cameras.... the music, the sighing, intoxicating hum of Simon & Garfunkel's America which chokes me the fuck up every time I hear it, the bellowing, filthy drive of Fever Dog as it rips through another arena, the glorious bus sing-along of Tiny Dancer - ain't nobody chooses movie music as well as Cameron Crowe (those not too snobbish to recall it will remember the bomb blast of Good Vibrations reverberating through a palatial lobby in Vanilla Sky as the bottom drops out of Tom Cruise's world - who knew that song could sound sinister?).

But what it all adds up to is this sense of illicit holiday, adventure, being on the run, and for a short moment in time, being king of everything you survey; a feeling of fleeting youth that must be clutched and clung to at all costs before it slips from one's grasp. I guess I talked about that a few posts back, the thing that makes you follow your heroes on the road. I love how Almost Famous reaches for that thing, finds it and rolls about in it. It's a film about fans of every age; Lester Bangs, aping giddily inside a radio station as he pulls Stooges records off the racks, the groupie girls who translate their fandom to a lifestyle pitched between cheerleader and mistress of ceremonies, the rockstars who talk in reverential tones about Cream and Pete Townsend, and little William Miller, a fan at all times in the most classic and innocent sense of the word, whether holding a mic to his heroes' faces or conked out in a bedroom surrounded by Hendrix and Who posters.

Almost Famous snaps that essence more perfectly than a tweaked Instagram, and with more authenticity, because its author came from the place he writes about. And it translates it beautifully, luring us in with the same siren-like deadliness as the bands themselves. I was 18 when I first saw it, on a date. After I left the cinema, I bought a green sheepskin coat and some naive part of my teenage self really thought I could be another Penny, trip through life with her easy glamour. I couldn't - I wasn't diaphanous or mysterious like her. "They make you feel cool. Even when I thought I was, I knew I wasn't." Twelve years (and many viewings) later, I found myself back in the front seat of the cinema. And what did I do when I left? I went to the record store and visited my friends (hello, 12" Suicide LP). I went to my local vintage shop and bought a perfect pair of 1960s sunglasses. And I felt that dizzy 'maybe, maybe' feeling again. Almost Famous has that effect because its writer knew exactly what it's like to be subject to it.

Since then, all I can listen to is 60s and 70s rock - Aerosmith, Creedence, The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Hendrix, Todd Rungren. And of course Springsteen. I was already on this trip; last month's kapow double-header of Springsteen and Paul Simon yanked me right back into the land of nostalgia for an era that ended before I began, and watching Almost Famous the other night sort of distilled that feeling, and clarified it for me. It reminded me which bits are real, and which bits are fiction. Right now I'm mourning that however many basement shows I go to in Kingsland Road, I'm not going to find my own young Springsteen or Tyler, ready for me to champion and cheer on to greatness; the feeling is different, colder, harder, and it just doesn't work like that anymore. Irony rules now, and that era of wide-eyed rock fandom is gone.

The director's cut demystified Penny Lane for me too; Crowe's version of her is much more fragile than her edited self, and you get how she and the bands became entwined, what they saw in each other, and how they failed each other. You see the girl she was before she became Penny Lane, the girl who never reveals her name. For a casual viewer, the demystification detracts from the whole, but to the fan, it's another precious layer of information. I read today about Obie Dziedzic, Springsteen's very own seamstress to the band - number one fan from day one, turned clothier, employee and Van Zandt manageress. Sans the girlfriend/groupie side of things, I saw in her the Tiny Dancer of Elton John's imagination, and the Penny Lane (in the dressing room, iron in hand) of Crowe's movie. I'd like to know more about her. I guess even the fans get to be heroes to someone else.

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