Music is a main character in Crowe's best films, and that was never more evident than in 2000's 'Almost Famous' (a tricked-out "director's cut" version of which has recently been released on Blu-ray). Next month, we'll be counting down a list of the best music scenes in movies (check back in March!), and that film's legendary 'Tiny Dancer' sing-along charts very high, as does the boombox serenade from 'Say Anything ...' So, we naturally jumped at an offer to interview Crowe, via email, about how he harnesses the power of music in his films.
And we're so glad we did, because now we can always say that Cameron Crowe emailed us from a Home Depot. Here's how he prefaced his reply to our questions:
Thanks, and I'm honored! Writing you now from the set of our new movie 'We Bought A Zoo' ... having fun, shooting a scene today at a Home Depot in Thousand Oaks. I am surrounded with wood, and batteries. Hope this translates to some smokin' answers to your fine questions ...
Read on for the full interview, including anecdotes about the unforgettable scenes involving 'Tiny Dancer' and 'In Your Eyes.' And keep refreshing your browsers in March for our list of the 50 best music scenes in movie history.
Moviefone: Compared with the other four films you wrote and directed yourself, where does 'Almost Famous' rank in terms of importance to you personally?
Cameron Crowe: [The most important is] definitely 'Almost Famous,' a script that was in my drawer as a passion project for a long time. I wanted to make a movie that paid tribute to a lot of very vivid characters I met [back] in the day, and also I wanted to make a movie about loving music. Every character, in some way or another, is dedicated to the way music can make you feel. On the right day, the right song can last forever.
I still make a mix CD every month, as a diary for how that month felt. 'Almost Famous' was like a mix in movie form. That's the way it felt to be 15 and falling in love with life and music.
Were you any more or less meticulous about song selection on 'Almost Famous' than you had been on previous films?
I'm always meticulous, but in many ways the song chooses the scene. There is usually a song that I've written the scene to, like Led Zeppelin's 'Misty Mountain Hop,' or there is only one song that was meant to be in that spot. Songs are sacred things and you have to earn them. People hear them in a new way thanks to a movie, and you want the movie to always do the song justice. Take Cat Stevens' 'The Wind' or Elton John's 'Tiny Dancer' in 'Almost Famous' -- they were the only two songs that worked. You know when it's right.
You've gone on record saying that Billy Idol's 1986 song 'To Be a Lover' was your inspiration for the boom box scene in 'Say Anything ...,' so we were wondering if 'Tiny Dancer' was your first choice.
'To Be a Lover' was a song I liked for [exactly] one day -- the day I wrote that scene. It never worked for the scene the day before or after. John Cusack is playing Fishbone's 'Bonin' in the Boneyard' in the actual scene, but when we put the movie together, it didn't work at all. He seemed like a crazed Fishbone fan who just happened to be outside her window.
But with 'In Your Eyes,' it was like his life was leading to that moment. We were lucky Peter Gabriel let us use it. It's a mystical kind of marriage, when a song works with film. I live for those kinds of marriages. It's always fun to find that connection as a director.
'Tiny Dancer' was always the choice [for the 'Almost Famous' scene]. It was always my favorite song from the 'Madman Across the Water' album, and always felt like the perfect song that could bring a band back together. It's also about the road and about the women you sometimes meet on tour. Thanks again to Elton for giving us all the separated tracks so that we could mix it especially for the movie.
What has Elton John said to you about that scene?
He's discussed the song a lot, and it's now a perennial in his live show. He also gives the movie credit for its resurgence, which is ridiculously generous. My mom called me one night not too long ago and said, "Quick -- turn on the TV. Elton John is thanking you for 'Almost Famous.'" I turned on the TV. It was surreal. He's a completely surprising, generous artist whose work just gets stronger.
Of all the memorable scenes in the film, why do you think the 'Tiny Dancer' one has remained so indelible?
Because everybody in the scene loved the song so much and loved singing it -- except for Noah Taylor, who plays the road manager. He loathed the song. He's a punk-rocker through and through. If you look at his face, he's in exquisite pain!
How satisfying was it for you that your script for 'Almost Famous' beat out, say, 'Gladiator' for Best Original Screenplay?
I was in shock. Fully expected Kenneth Lonergan's wonderful script for 'You Can Count On Me' to win, and when they announced my name, the world turned psychedelic. I still don't remember what happened next. I think [presenter] Tom Hanks saw the panic in my eyes and said, "Turn around, say a few words, have fun ..." What I said at the podium, I have no idea.
"I am a golden god!" vs. "Show me the money!" -- which quote wins?
"Show me the money," because I just heard Obama quote it in the State of the Union address.
Last question: Whatever happened to Lloyd's boom box, by the way?
It's in my garage. I think I'll play a Fishbone cassette on it tonight, in your honor.