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Almost Famous

"Almost Famous Untitled - the Bootleg Cut" on DVD

The Real Best Picture of 2000?

Cameron Crowe hit another one out of the park with this coming of age story based on his own early days. Now, with this "director's cut," he has gone his original film one step further. The result is not only about forty minutes longer, but it's a more complete (though not necessarily better) movie.

The story is the same as in the original version, of course. William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is a bright kid growing up in San Diego. He's so bright he's actually two years younger than his school classmates, which causes him some angst.

Causing him more angst is his mother (Frances McDormand), a well-meaning college professor and single mother who wants to protect William and his sister from the dirty outside world. This causes his sister to run away, leaving William the key to his future: her collection of Rock albums.

Flash forward four years, to 1973 (in a transition beautifully staged to The Who's "Sparks," which cuts seamlessly with the movie, from the original Tommy album to the Live at Leeds version) and William's now a fifteen year old rock journalist wannabe. He endears himself to the editor of Creem magazine, a Rolling Stone-compatible rock rag, and gets a couple of minor assignments from him.

Then comes his BIG BREAK. Rolling Stone has seen his stuff and assigns him to go on the road with "Stillwater," an up and coming band from Michigan, to do a major (eventually, cover) piece.

Over his mother's objections, William hits the road with the band and its entourage, living and loving with them and soaking up the rock environment.

What to write? The band members become his friends, so does he write what they'd like to see in print or does he write the whole truth and nothing but the truth, risking his new friends' wrath, credibility, and careers but possibly cementing his own?

Then there's Penny Lane, the sexy 16 year old "Band Aid" (basically, a groupie who supposedly doesn't go all the way) and her friends. Penny, played beautifully by Kate Hudson, is the woman of William's dreams, but she has baggage on baggage on baggage…

This is a very superficial look at a film that rocks and rolls along at a good clip, taking you with it. It's populated by real people and events with which those who also came of age during the 1970's can easily identify - even if they weren't exactly there with William and the band.

Writer/director Crowe gives us delicious characters and situations that make us laugh, and then a couple of minutes later make us cry. He even throws in a couple of the oldest movie jokes in the book - and makes them work.

The look and feel of the film are very authentic; you can tell this is a labor of love by Crowe, who got his own start under similar circumstances as a wunderkind who began working for Creem and then Rolling Stone.

Mention should also be made of the musical soundtrack and score. The film is accompanied by many classic rock songs, either in their original versions or reproduced by the band (jamming in their hotel room or singing on the bus, for example), and bridging them beautifully is some fine guitar work by Crowe's wife Nancy Wilson.

Billy Crudup gets top billing on the marquee for his role as the leader/guitarist of Stillwater (and he's very good), but it's definitely Patrick Fugit's movie. He plays William perfectly, sometimes in wide-eyed awe, sometimes in control (often not), sometimes in love. This is a kid to watch.

Other perfect performances come from Hudson, as Penny, and McDormand as the mother we all wanted to hate at that age of our lives.

The director's edition DVD is a two disc set, with the second disc being basically a repeat of the original DVD. Both versions of the film are presented in anamorphic widescreen (16x9 compatible) and the video quality is excellent. Audio is DTS and Dolby Digital on the orginal, but unfortunately the DTS is omitted from the Untitled version on Disc One. Still, sound quality on both discs is excellent and, as befits a rock and roll movie, the concert scenes are appropriately loud compared with the rest of the film.

In all, it all works to complement a wonderful script, great direction, and marvelous performances.

The "Untitled" version of the film expands the running time to about 162 minutes, but it never drags and the new footage fits so well you probably won't notice most of it unless you've memorized the first version. That said, the movie didn't really suffer from its omission in the original, but the new film does feel more "complete," and that's not a bad thing.

Then there are the extras,of which there are plenty. Disc one, the expanded version, includes Cameron Crowe's commentary, an interview with mentor Lester Bangs, behind the scenes footage, Crowe's original Rolling Stone articles (with Crowe's introduction), his "Top Ten Albums of 1973", and a music video.

Disc two, the original version, includes the DTS soundtrack version, Stillwater's Cleveland concert footage, deleted scenes with commentary by Cameron Crowe, the original screenplay, trailer, production notes, cast/crew bios etc.

An added bonus is a six track CD of Stillwater, with songs by Cameron Crowe and his composer wife Nancy Wilson (whose score for the film fits the rock sounds surrounding it perfectly). It's actually pretty good, though Stillwater would be no "Who" if it were a real band.

There's also a pamplet in the package that includes chapter stop info and liner notes.

In all, this is not a disc to be missed!

Almost Famous - Untitled, the Bootleg Cut, from Dreamworks Home Video
162/123 min. widescreen (1.85:1) 16x9 compatible, DTS (original version) and Dolby Digital (both versions)
Starring Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Frances McDormand, Billy Crudup
Produced by Cameron Crowe and Ian Bryce
Written and Directed by Cameron Crowe.


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Updated May 13, 2006