Guest post by Kyle Waldrup
Can you imagine Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding their American hogs down a stretch of desert highway without the sounds of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” roaring in the background? What if that scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman and John Travolta enter themselves in a dancing contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s was completely taken out? Or what if Tom Cruise never danced to Bob Segar in Risky Business? What if he just sat there in his underwear? Creepy.
These were all iconic scenes from those films, and they were made iconic by the music chosen to symbolize those characters. When audio and moving image come together so perfectly, it most often becomes the most reminisced scene from that movie. It’s an easy argument to make but it’s still worth saying that films wouldn’t be near as entertaining or interesting without music.
This week, I’m going to break down one of these scenes in a film that still remains one of my top 10 favorites of all time: Almost Famous. Here’s a brief recap in case you’ve never seen this movie (And if you haven’t seen it, what the hell? Seriously, go see it. It’s great.): A fifteen-year-old William Miller convinces an up-and-coming rock band named Stillwater (fronted by Jeff Bebe, played by Jason Lee) to let him tag along on tour with them as he writes a Rolling Stone article about said band. Lots of things happen on this tour that can best be described as sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Jeff and Russell, the guitarist (played by Billy Crudup) fight constantly about which of them should get the most attention. Russell is sleeping with Penny Lane (played by Kate Hudson) but little William likes Penny too. And somewhere along the way, Jimmy Fallon shows up, the band has a near-death experience on a plane (not involving snakes), and William Miller grows up to be Cameron Crowe.
(Quick side-note: So far, talking about Almost Famous is the only time I can use the words “good movie” and “Kate Hudson” in the same sentence. Who knows, though? I’m still holding out for that sequel to You, Me and Dupree.)
After an epic fight within the band, Russell decides to disappear for the night and takes little William with him to find “real people.” They end up at some suburban household where a bunch of drunken teenagers can’t believe a rock star has just shown up at their door (something I hear rock stars do all the time yet I rarely believe it). After a night of hard drugs and jumping into pools, William lets the band know where they’re at, and the tour bus comes by to pick them up.
The following scene features all the main and side characters (except William’s mom played wonderfully by Frances McDormand) sitting quietly on the bus, each in their own world, the hurtful words that were exchanged still lingering in the air. Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” is playing. (I’m assuming on the radio since they didn’t even have CD’s back then. Ha. The RADIO! Can you imagine?) And with that, some heads begin to nod, feet begin to tap and pretty soon someone starts to sing along. Then the next person. Then the next. Until everybody on the bus is singing along to Elton in seemingly perfect harmony. Everything about the fight has been washed away, and for just this moment, the band remembers they’re all friends and the reason they’re together on this tour bus is for the music. William, who may not be getting the gravity of the situation just yet, turns to Penny and says, “I have to go home.” Penny waves her hand, as if using a Jedi mind trick, and replies, “You are home.” This is your home, and you’re with family now, so just enjoy it.