Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Almost Famous

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, January 15, 2002

Nineteen years old and never been kissed, I remember it well. It’s been a long time. Nowadays we’re more into staying in our rooms and reading Nietzsche. There was good fun to be had, you know, it’s just that in those days there were more people to have good fun with... We met a lot of people who we still know and a lot of people who have faded away. Some ODed. Some of them just grew up. I don’t see the point in growing up.

Special features

Behind-the-Scenes Footage4
Cast Information6
Commentary Track9
Deleted Scenes5
Director Cut9
Music CD7
Music Video10
Production Notes5
Related Writings8

This is the best DVD I’ve seen yet. It has not one, not two, but three discs: the third disc is a CD with music by Stillwater, including the Led Zeppelin-like “Fever Dogs”. Thought the snippets of that song was cool, it was too bad they didn’t write the whole thing? Fret no more, they did write the whole thing, and at least five other songs, all on the CD.

RecommendationPurchase Now!
DirectorCameron Crowe
WriterCameron Crowe
Movie Rating8
Transfer Quality7
Overall Rating9
  • Enhanced Widescreen
Almost Famous (BBQHouse): Almost Famous scene (BBQHouse)

It’s not the Riot House, but San Diego has its own brand of wild and crazy.

The opening imagery for the DVDs is fantastic, an incredible immersion into a scratchy film of hanging polaroids. I want to dive inside it and grab them, turn them over and find out what’s written on the back.

The two discs hold two movies: the original theatrical release and a special director’s cut. Each is widescreen enhanced, and each holds its own collection of extra features.

The theatrical release was great. I was worried that the extended version was going to end up being too much. But it adds a couple of good scenes with William’s mom, with Penny Lane, and about William’s high school life. The “bootleg” cut is 2 hours, 42 minutes, about 30 minutes longer than the theatrical release.

I love that shot of Hai Karate in the opening credits. My dad used that stuff.

The opening sequence in Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, and Balboa Park is also a trip for this 10-year San Diegan. They filmed on location. Even the inside of his house looks like a San Diego house.

William Miller is growing up in an odd household. His mother, a college professor, complains about the use of the word “X-Mas”, and thinks that Simon & Garfunkel is too extreme. And he just doesn’t seem to be able to grow up. He’s just about to start high school and he still looks like he’s 11. This, also, is his mother’s fault. “Adolescence is a marketing tool.” His sister eventually plays Simon & Garfunkel to their mother when she leaves. Zooey Deschanel does a great job as his stifled sister, who leaves him a parting gift that changes his life.

I’m just a little younger than Crowe. I remember when I first heard rock music. It wasn’t an older sister, it was a friend at Catholic grade school, who handed me a cassette of KISS’s “Destroyer” and said “You’ve got to listen to this.” And another friend who brought in Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, and all the boys in sixth grade huddled in a corner and looked at Alice’s green face and the big word “hell”. Before that was WMUS, popular country, and my mother had control over the radio so that was all I heard. My brother came home with AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” on vinyl, and mom made him take it back. I didn’t have that problem, because I bought cassettes (my other brother bought 8-tracks), and didn’t have to use our parent’s veneer console record player.

“It’s all happening.”

His first assignment with Creem magazine leads him to an up-and-coming band, Stillwater, and the girls that love them. The movie is as much about his love for the backstage followers as it is about his love for the music.

Almost Famous (Etcha Sketch): Almost Famous scene (Etcha Sketch)

Until he met music, he was going to follow someone else’s path for his life. Afterwards he didn’t know what he was going to do, but Lester Bangs helped him find his own way, and Penny Lane guided him through the initial maze. There is a hero’s quest in his life: he works hard to get a chance as a rock writer; when he gets that chance, he needs mystical assistance, and he needs to pass through the mouth of death to meet his fate.

It’s all happening.

Because this movie is so nearly autobiographical, the commentary is nearly part of it, and doubly so: not only is Cameron Crowe there, but his mother is also. “Always be careful what you say to your children; they may put it into a movie later.” It’s a great commentary, one of the best, if you like to know the inspiration for scenes. If you want to know which of the San Diego parts are real, for example, and how some of these really happened to Crowe, you’ll find out here.

“Just enjoy the ride.”

The Special Features

There is a concert, apparently real, of Stillwater playing in Cleveland for filming the concert scenes. They played live for a huge audience, although I have no idea if they were playing their own instruments or not. Because it was for the film, it is also in widescreen, although I don’t know if it was enhanced. (And because it was live, it also includes some anachronisms such as glow sticks in the audience (they kept the glow sticks out of the movie). I’m fairly certain that these weren’t in common use in 1973.) It includes full versions of “Love Comes and Goes”, “Hour of Need,” and “You Had to Be There.” It’s hard to fill a period piece with original music that captures the feel of that period. I thought that “Velvet Goldmine” was a big disappointment in this regard. The Wilsons and Frampton did a great job of writing music for “Almost Famous”. Nancy and Ann Wilson collaborated with Crowe (Nancy’s his wife, talk about “fanboy makes good.”) for most of the songs. Peter Frampton wrote “Hour of Need” and “Love Comes and Goes”, the latter a strong opening. “Hour of Need” sounds just a bit like what it’s supposed to be: an earlier effort from a band that didn’t quite make it. “You Had to Be There” reminds me a little of ZZ Top during its opening, and then heads into a sound I recognize but can’t place, perhaps a touch of Foghat. Or, it might be reminding me of Peter Frampton, after all, he wrote it. I only have two Frampton albums, “Frampton Live!” and “I’m In You” (both of which have blurbs by Cameron Crowe…) Or it might be reminding me of itself—this is good music, and I’ve added all of these songs into my iTunes rotation. Like all good seventies songs, it has one line that is open to wide interpretation. Tooth and nail? Too banal? To the Nile? Too venal? Too penile? Excuse me while I kiss this guy.

Almost Famous (Empty Ballroom): Almost Famous scene (Empty Ballroom)

The CD also contains “Love Thing” and “Chance Upon You”. And, of course, “Fever Dogs.” The more I hear the song “Fever Dogs,” the more impressed I am with it.

If “Fever Dogs” had been introduced in 1973, it would have been a hit. Hell, it would probably have been a hit in 2001 if there were any “formats” it could play on. A few months before this DVD came out, I picked up The Allman Brothers’ “Brothers and Sisters.” I’m amazed that this album played on rock stations. Radio stations have no variety today unless they’re playing oldies, and of course they don’t have any variety from past the eighties. I remember when Peter Frampton’s “I’m In You” came out. I think I got it from some crazy-ass music club like Columbia House, as their pick of the month! It was such an eclectic collection of songs. You can still see that sort of thing, but not on the radio. It's on MP3.com or people’s personal iTunes playlists passed from person to person.

There is an “interactive” deleted scene: William tries to convince his mother to let him go on the Rolling Stone assignment, and he does this by playing “Stairway to Heaven” for her. The entire song. It was cut, however, because they couldn’t get the rights. Personally, I think it made the movie better. They did the entire song. It was slow, and over the top. Crowe feels differently, however; in any case, you can find out for yourself. Cue up “Stairway to Heaven” on your CD or record player (or cassette player if, like me, you have it on CD but use your DVD player as a CD player) and start playing it exactly when the DVD tells you to start. You can then see the scene as Crowe intended. (Amazingly, they did use the ending of the scene—there are three other people in the room when William’s mom tells him “No, no, no. Okay, you have to call every day, and you can’t miss any tests.” We just don’t see them. As I said, I think the scene works better that way.) Oh, and Cameron Crowe’s mom is one of the teachers in that scene. So if you want to know who his cohort on the commentary track is, you can see her here.

Almost Famous (Beatles): Almost Famous scene (Beatles)

Wasn’t this a Beatles album cover?

There is a collage of Lester Bangs interviews, mostly of him talking trash about various seventies bands and the death of Rock and Roll (I’d call it the embalming). It’s good, but I’d like to see more.

There isn’t much in the way of behind-the-scenes footage. It’s a little funny watching “Quince” air-dancing to Fever Dogs, but it wears thin long before that particular footage of rehearsing for the radio interview ends. There’s also some “hanging out with guitars” rehearsal footage, but there’s only about 10 minutes total of all the B-Sides footage.

More coolness is that we can see some of “William’s” Rolling Stones articles, ranging from an article on the Allman Brothers from December of 1973 to a Joni Mitchell article in July of 1979. The fictional Stillwater was apparently based heavily on a combination of Yes and the Allman Brothers, with a touch of Lynrd Skynrd thrown in. It is marred slightly by a poor editing job: there’s a cross-platform gremlin turning some of the apostrophes into accented ‘i’s. The Led Zeppelin article is especially interesting. Jimmy Page’s observations in 1975 mirror Cameron Crowe’s in 2000.

I don’t know whether I’ll reach 40. I don’t know whether I’ll reach 35. I can’t be sure about that. I am bloody serious. I am very, very serious. I didn’t think I’d make 30.

The full script is on the DVD, though it’s in half-pages. This is a good thing, though, because it means you can read it on your television screen. The only disappointment is that it does not, as far as I can tell, let you play the scene that you’re reading on your DVD player. The script itself is a rock review. Take this, for example, from the scene inside William’s first assignment:

Jeff Bebe grabs the microphone and launches into some vocal pyrotechnics. Russell looks over to Penny and William, at stage right, grinning, pretending to trip on his cord, an elegant show-off move of a musician who is now where he belongs… before seriously stepping forward for the first guitar lead of the night. Shot lingers on the face of William as he soaks in the most undeniably exciting moment of any concert, the first thirty seconds.

I’m not sure which script it is, though; for example, it does not contain the “Stairway to Heaven” scene. It contains the abridged version of the scene.

Cameron Crowe does a voice over of album covers from the “Top Albums of 1973.” The trailer’s cool, too. It has at least three scenes that aren’t in the movie, the extended movie, or anywhere else (that I can find) on the DVD.

Recommendation: Purchase Now!

DirectorCameron Crowe
WriterCameron Crowe
ActorsPatrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Lee, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, Zooey Deschanel
Spoken languageFrench
SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
Special FeaturesBehind-the-Scenes Footage, Cast Information, Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Director Cut, Interviews, Music CD, Music Video, Production Notes, Related Writings, Script, Trailer
More links

If you enjoyed Almost Famous…

For more about Fairuza Balk, you might also be interested in The Waterboy.

For more about Jason Lee, you might also be interested in Mallrats.

For more about seventies, you might also be interested in Boogie Nights, Detroit Rock City, Dick, North Dallas Forty, All the President’s Men, Better for being ridden: the eternal lie of the anointed, Plain & Fancy in the seventies with Hiram Walker, A Bicentennial Meal for the Sestercentennial, Hobby Computer Handbook: From 1979 to 1981, and Hesperia Class of ’82.