Friday 22 June 2007
The Music Of Almost Famous
My contribution to the Filmmusic Blog-a-thon over at Windmills Of My Mind.
I have to admit to not being a big film score fan. It's not that I don't appreciate film music and its role. Indeed my emotions can be twisted, turned and toyed with by great music as evidenced by these off the top of my head examples:
- The Fountain's recurring themes.
- The opening music from Miller's Crossing with the hat being blown away in the wind is an image/music combination I can't split apart.
- The slow pace and music of a seduction scene from Barry Lyndon (on a balcony). I still haven't seen the entire film yet, but this one clip had me glued.
- Tony Gatlif's films Swing, Vengo and Transylvania all have music at the root of the lives of their characters. They live and breathe it.
- The orchestral composition running through Juliette Binoche's head throughout Three Colours - Blue.
- Halloween, The Sting, The Jungle Book, Black Orpheus, Singin' In The Rain...
Great moments all...But I'm usually sucked even deeper into a moment when it's attached to a song or piece of music I already know. I often imagine my own scenes and how I would film them as I listen to music with some styles and genres giving me "more to work with" than others. This happens even more often these days as I've been doing a lot of walking with the iPod. Soundtracks, as opposed to film scores, usually connect with me quicker and, in the end, deeper.
And it's hard to beat a soundtrack like the one from Almost Famous. Especially if you felt your early formative years followed a somewhat similar path to that of the film's protagonist (except for that whole becoming a rock critic at fifteen, writing for Rolling Stone, flying in private jets and marrying one of the sisters from Heart). I discovered FM radio and what we now term "classic rock" around the time I was twelve and dammit if Cameron Crowe didn't capture those moments of discovery brillantly. When the young William Miller spins his older sister's records for the first time and the needle drops on The Who's "Sparks" from Tommy, I immediately get the goosebumps - the same ones I probably got the first time I heard the song and the same ones William seems to be getting as we watch his reaction. And then there's the terrific cut to an older William in high school just as Townsend's guitar crashes into the song.
Of course, only a pedantic bore would point out that "Sparks" doesn't actually begin any of the sides of that double album (sides? yes, vinyl records had sides), so let's just keep moving...
Another great and by now famous use of music in the film is Elton John's "Tiny Dancer":
Crowe borders on cheesy here, but I find his mixing of the scenic views outside the bus with the initial head bobbing of the passengers leads perfectly into the final communal singing of the chorus. Puts a smile on my face every single time.
And another short bit from the extended cut with Cat Stevens' "The Wind":
He nails the time period as well as the mood and thoughts of the character. And he doesn't resort to an overly familiar or obvious choice of songs. There's a plethora (I love that word) of moments like these in the film that capture not only the "era", but more importantly the feeling of the scene.
But the film also contains music written especially for it. Not a score per se, but the music of the fictional band Stillwater. What's especially great about this music is that it fits the band to a "T". The music comes across as a poor man's Bad Company - blues rock from a "mid-level band". A couple of the songs are actually quite good and could have been minor radio hits back in the day:
Very much in keeping with what an opening band in the 70s might have played. I also love the sound of the drums at the beginning of "Fever Dog" in the clip above - it's exactly like they sound when watching a band in a big cavernous hockey arena, especially when they are the opening band who obviously had less time for soundcheck.
Their other songs are a bit more forgettable and sound like those filler tracks you might hear deep into side 2. A pretty good example is "Love Comes And Goes":
I'm not sure if Nancy Wilson and Cameron Crowe intended to make some of those other tracks "less good", but what they've achieved with the music in this movie is a seamless whole. The Stillwater songs, the hits from the 70s, the lesser known tracks, the incidental tunes heard walking past a hotel room...They all just blend into the film and you can't pull them apart.
That's good film music in my mind.