Crowe's Almost Famous
Director Cameron Crowe and co-star Kate Hudson talk about groupies, the 70's, and rock-and-roll's heyday
by Peter Keough
This article was posted on September 11, 2000.
Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire shows what happens when money corrupts something pure and passionate like sports. In his new, more personal film, Crowe shows what something pure and passionate is like before its corrupted. Almost Famous celebrates the spirit of optimism and creativity of rock-and-roll's last heyday in the early 70s.
Based on Crowe's Life
Crowe should know about it; he was there. An established music critic by the age of fifteen, he covered bands like Yes, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple on tour. Standing in for Crowe in Almost Famous is William Miller, played by impressive newcomer Patrick Fugit. He's a green San Diego teen tapped by Rolling Stone to track the rise of the hot new band Stillwater and its charismatic guitarist, played by Billy Crudup. William joins up on their "Almost Famous" tour, observing the "circus" of sex and drugs and rock-and-roll, and falling in love with the lovely groupie (or "band-aid," as she insists on being called) Penny Lane, played by rising star Kate Hudson.
"It's a composite," Crowe says of the film's basis in fact. "The band Stillwater is sort of a combo platter. Much of it is probably the Eagles."
"Band-Aids" in Control
And the scene in which his stand-in William is "deflowered" by a flock of "band-aids"?
"...is true. We were in Portland, and I was writing about Lee Michaels. [The groupies] were sitting around and decided this was boring and they needed to liven things up...It was terrifying! These girls controlled everything. They controlled the rockers. Then of course you're hanging with the rockers and they're in glorious states of denial. And it's like, what happened to grand nobility of the muses that control the artist?"
Groupies A Source of Inspiration
Hudson, who met the actual Penny Lane, agreed that the groupies were more a source of inspiration than exploitation. "I met her about a week before we ended shooting," says Hudson. "She had this sparkle in her eye and that posture and the grand movements and zero arrogance. She loved the music and that's what the movie's about. In Penny Lane's case, the music never leaves the man, which inevitably made her fall in love with the musician, too. And that's a difficult thing. Somewhere inside is a lost, vulnerable girl.
"As far as groupies are concerned, though, I think I can say from the research I've done that these girls knew exactly what they were doing. You can ask any of them and they will tell you 'I never regret it, I had the best time, and I knew what I was getting into.' A lot of women find it to be degrading, but it was a different time. There was a lot of freedom. These girls had that energy and they wanted to be a part of something great."
More Money at Stake, Less Passion
Perhaps it was a more innocent, more passionate time; Crowe and Hudson think so.
"I hate to be Grampa," Crowe opines, "saying it was better back then. But there's a little bit of that. With movies, definitely. And I'd love to get back to a little bit of the passion of when the music was made in an environment where there was less money at stake. There's a really easy observation to make there, like 'Oh yeah, the globalization of rock, it ruined it!' But the truth is that I remember talking to these these musicians, and they were interested in reaching one person. It was all a little more private."
"We're at this place in both industries where it's horrible," adds Hudson. "Nobody's making good music anymore and the ones that are aren't selling records. I think it's amazing that Cameron had made a film about loving something great. A big mainstream film that's a wonderful piece of work that I hope that people want to go out and see. And mostly I hope it will inspire."