Most moviegoers don’t really think about editing when they see a film. They don’t consider pacing or cuts or transitions as much as characters or storytelling, and why should they? It’s behind-the-scenes stuff, things you shouldn’t think about until its apparent it was done poorly, kind of like how you only notice you have bad reception on your cell phone 1/10 times, since you have decent reception most of the other times. In our minds, whatever is on screen is how that film always existed until we’re possibly presented with a different version later.
Almost Famous is a movie with two such different versions. The first is Almost Famous as we know it, the version that was screened in theaters, plays on Saturday afternoon cable TV and is available to stream on our Macbooks or Rokus for $2.99 a pop. The second version is the “Untitled” version, which is what the film was originally titled before it became Almost Famous. This version has everything the Almost Famous version has plus a lot of deleted scenes, including stuff like the band’s interview with a radio station, more of rock journo William’s mentorship from veteran writer Lester Bangs, and most importantly, or begrudgingly, additional scenes detailing the romance between Penny Lane and Russell Hammond. With all of these scenes, the Untitled version becomes a poorly edited mess, no longer smooth-sailing, nostalgic rock and roll-loving movie magic, with the now-included Penny Lane scenes completely contradicting the originally tragic romance that was given to us in the theatrical version. Its almost a pain to watch, because while its still a good movie, it isn’t a classic anymore.
This raises a necessary question about whether Cameron Crowe is such a gifted director as he’s made out to be, or if he’s given too much creative control a la George Lucas fashion, his movies will end up falling apart, like his two recent ventures We Bought a Zoo and Aloha. If anything, it shows that the true quality of a film is a collaborative process, just like the collaborative journey the Stillwater bandmates and friends embarked on in their emotionally-yearning 1973 cross-country tour. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.
As said earlier, Almost Famous is a classic. It moves briskly and swiftly, evoking laughs and deeper emotional cuts. Each of its characters is marvelously fleshed out, and it praises its era without being overly-coated in thick 70s nostalgia. It’s a moving story about a boy’s coming of age at the apex of rock and roll, and is genuinely enjoyable throughout every second, never losing our eye contact as it soothes our ears with Elton John and Led Zeppelin singles. It is a perfect movie if such a thing exists. It’s just scary to think how close it came to not being that way.