Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 66: Sleeve Notes

Used to be that the buying of music was so much more"back then", much more than the buying of music today. Am I showing my age, does this sound like the whine and whinge of a grumpy old man, even though I buy and download as much from iTunes as the next man?

I was 12 in 1970 and the next five to ten years of my life were like the central character's in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, give or take the bit about going on tour with a rock band of fame like he did, freelancing for Rolling Stone magazine. Almost Famous speaks to me - so affectionately - in a way that no other film does (with the exception of Sofia Coppola's adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides's The Virgin Suicides). If I look at the screenplay with my thumb over the names, the locations and the circumstances, the themes and motifs of the story are mine, of my life circa 1973 too.

Cameron Crowe was born in 1957, a year before me. The film Almost Famous is loosely based on his experience as a teenager when he was writing for Rolling Stone; the central character in the film, William Miller, ends up landing the assignment of going on tour with the fictitious band Stillwater, whereas in life, writer/director Crowe hit the road with bands like The Allman Brothers, Lynrd Skynrd, The Eagles and led Zeppelin. From about the age of fifteen, I (and my brother) were professionally deejaying around the south cost of the UK and I got to do some production work at a local radio station and go out on roadshows, before heading off to Luxembourg and Central Europe for a year in my early twenties. It may not have been your blue ribbon psychedelic experience of Crowe's, but sex and drugs and rock and roll it was nonetheless ("all a brain and body needs").

Those themes and motifs that I mentioned are rites of passage at a point in time in your youth when you discover music, your drug of choice and members of the opposite sex (all at the same same time it would seem). It's a perfect storm alright, but "perfect" good not "perfect" bad, at least that wasn't my experience.

1970 through 1980 was great, give or take. My experience is that the years from about eleven through to your early teens are when music dictates pretty-much most of what goes on in your life, or it did then: what you wear, who you're hanging out with, where you're going, what those "drugs of choice" are and what you're listening to.

There's a moment in Almost Famous when William's older sister leaves home and before she does she tells her younger brother that she's left something "under her bed for him" that will "blow his mind" or "open his eyes" or words to that effect. I think everyone in the cinema was expecting him to find a stash of marijuana but instead, it's a bunch of albums (always guaranteed to serve you longer and with greater fidelity). He flicks through them one by one and they're an approximation of the 'bunch of albums' that my older brother had: Tommy by The Who, Led Zeppelin Three, The Rolling Stones's Get Yer Ya Ya's Out, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Honky Chateau and more.

I don't know that it's a guy thing and I don't think it was a 1970's thing, surely it's a rite of passage thing that everyone goes through; I hope so. But back to the buying of the music. Our local record store was called Focus (as in the Dutch band that had the hits Sylvia and Hocus Pocus...did I loose anyone there?) and my memory tells me that Rick owned and ran Focus and tired of the likes of me and my freinds coming in after school or on weekends enquring about the date of the new release by Genesis/Emerson Lake & Palmer/Free/Rory Gallagher/ Groundhogs/The Sensational Alex Harvey Band...delete where neccessary.

Everything about the album purchase was treasured and poured over, from the tracks themselves to the sleeves notes, who engineered the music and who designed the album cover. For a period there in the prog-rock world which I inhabited, Roger Dean was the album cover designer du jour - Yes, Uriah Heap, Gentle Giant, Budgie. Those sleeves were iconic and talked about almost as much as the music.

Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous is certainly not the most critically acclaimed film in the world and hardly makes any of the Top 100 film lists that you may come across but it obviously works for for him and it does for me too.

Day #66: The 'rules of the road' for adaptation
William Goldman is a master of adaptation, he scripted A Bridge Too Far, All The President's Men, Misery, Marathon Man and many more from original source material by others. Heck, he even adapted his own novel The Princess Bride, into a screenplay. William Goldman says this (I'm going to paraphrase him here) on the rules of the road for adaptation:

(1)You must create a "new" piece
(2)You must remain true to the essence of the original source material
(3) You must stay true to what made you want to adapt it in the first place

After fulfilling these three commandments, all other bets are off. Along with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Merchant Ivory's screenwriter of choice[she adapted The Bostonians, Howard's End, The Remains Of The Day, A Room With A View, The Golden Bowl]) he's the best at adaptation going around.

Cameron Crowe adapted his own life story, or at least he used it as a starting point, for his screenplay and film Almost Famous. Like the parallel of my youth to his, the names, locations and circumstances may have been different, but he remained true to the essence of his story about a young man and how he lost his virginity, fell in love, loved his music and met his heroes.

There's more to talk about with adaptation and I can (and will) speak from experience as I've written four drafts of a feature film called The Detective (set In Afghanistan of 2010), a screenplay that began life as a novel called Battambang (set in French Cambodia of the late 1940's early 1950's).

If you haven't seen Almost Famous or if you haven't seen it for some time, it's the film that's single-handedly responsible for resurrecting Elton John's song Tiny Dancer over the last few years; I think it's one of those strange incidents where another medium (in this case film) has given status or credibilty to a another piece of art (in this case a song) that it never really had before. I don't know too many people if any who would openly sing along to that song before the film. Check it out in the movie if you haven't already or remind yourself of the scene on the bus. 

That's it, I'm off to: "...count the headlights on the highway.....I've had a busy day today...".

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