ALMOST FAMOUS UNTITLED - THE BOOTLEG CUT
Reviewed December 4th, 2001 by Dan Jones
”’That groupie’? She was a Band-Aid! All she did was love your band. And you used her, all of you! You used her and threw her away! She almost died last night while you were with Bob Dylan. You guys, you're always talking about the fans, the fans, the fans; she was your biggest fan, and you threw her away! And if you can't see that, that's your biggest problem. And I love her! I love her!”
Written as a “thank you” to rock n’ roll music of his era, Almost Famous is essentially a true story, revolving around the very interesting life of the movie’s director: Cameron Crowe. Cameron Crowe, possibly best known for Jerry McGuire (watch out for his latest, Vanilla Sky soon), has done a tremendous job in bringing the late ‘60s and early ‘70s onto the screen, in this excellent story revolving around William Miller (played by Patrick Fugit) and his trip on a 1973 Stillwater tour. Stillwater, while not a real band, was based loosely on Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd (among others), whom Crowe toured with as a relatively young boy working for Rolling Stone.
Almost Famous is just a great movie. The movie starts with a very young Miller living in a somewhat strange household, with a quasi-rebel sister and a very, very, cautious and perhaps overbearing mother, played exceptionally well by Frances McDormand, whom just cannot stand the new age music (even Simon and Garfunkle). Slightly after the onset of the movie, his sister Anita, played by Zooey Deschanel, goes off with her boyfriend and becomes a stewardess. But, before she leaves, she takes her young brother aside and tells him to look under his bed; what he finds here changes his life forever; a rather large music collection.
Flash forward a bit and we get a somewhat older Miller whom is very passionate about music, and whom writes for an underground newspaper while in High School. Enter Lester Bangs, played by the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman, whom reads some of the reviews Miller puts forward, and is impressed enough to essentially make him his young protégé; giving him tips on the music industry, and life in general. After a short while Rolling Stone becomes interested (although they have no idea who William is) and agrees to pay his way on a Stillwater tour; of course looking for behind the scenes interviews and the obvious dirt on the band.
From here, we are introduced to a group of groupies, or Band-Aids as they like to be called, who follow bands like these around. Lead by the infamous Penny Lane, perfectly played by Kate Hudson, William quickly becomes friends with her group of girls, and as the movie progresses, William falls in love with Penny; even though Penny is in love with Russell Hammond, the lead guitarist of Stillwater, played by Billy Crudup. Other notable actors in the film are Jason Lee (of Kevin Smith films) as Jeff Bebe, the lead singer of Stillwater, Jimmy Fallon (at first its hard to tell its him) as Dennis Hope whom comes in to give new management to Stillwater, and Fairuza Balk and Anna Paquin as other Band-Aids (whom assist in young William’s “de-flowering”).
I would go further into the story; but I do not really want to give everything away. Almost Famous is one of those movies that just lingers on a viewers mind; one of those pure movies that just leaves you feeling good about life, and perhaps, a bit sad at the same time. The movie looks gorgeous, which can probably be attributed to the film’s shockingly large budget of sixty plus million dollars. The acting is tremendous. The direction and cinematography are equally good. Overall, there is really nothing I can fault this movie with; I just loved it. The sad part is, given its huge budget and overall lackluster performance in theaters, the movie will probably never make a profit. Nevertheless, it was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning Best Writing/Screenplay category for Cameron Crowe. The other nominations were best actress in a supporting role for Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand, and best editing for Joe Hutshing and Saar Klein.
As for DVD releases, this will be the second coming of Almost Famous to the format. Back in March, Almost Famous made its first release. Produced by DreamWorks, this DVD gave us a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, the “Fever Dog” Stillwater music video, an HBO “Making of”, and Crowe’s Rolling Stone articles. Overall, this was a solid release that was ironically mis-marked by just about every retail and online site I looked at, at release, claiming that it was the directors cut. Of course, this was false, as Crowe was currently working on a couple of projects and did not yet have the time to sit down and piece together the directors cut. However, since I loved the movie so much I did purchase the original release, knowing full well that I would buy it again.
Now, in my hands is the “Bootleg” cut of Almost Famous, now to be known simply as “Untitled” (as shown in the opening credits). This is quite a spectacular release by DreamWorks giving us both the original cut of the movie, and the new, longer directors cut. We are also treated to a myriad of extras, and a third bonus CD giving us six Stillwater tracks, which were written by Cameron Crowe and his wife, Nancy Wilson (whom did lead vocals in the band “Heart”). Let’s look closer.
“Untitled” incorporates over thirty more minutes into the already two hour and three minute film. One might assume that this could make the movie drag on; but this was truly not the case. It is in this reviewer’s opinion that this extra time actually made the movie flow a bit better, making it seem essentially the same length of the first; yet providing for an even better movie experience. The new scenes that were incorporated are not huge additions to the original, giving us a bit more character development, a slightly different opening, and other additions here and there that might not be noticeable at first viewing, but that go along with the flow of the film perfectly. After viewing the bootleg cut, I can safely say that I felt it was a slightly better movie then the theatrical cut; and that is impressive for me to say, as I felt the theatrical cut was near perfection. On to the details of the DVD!
This Bootleg collection of Almost Famous gives us two DVDs and the aforementioned bonus audio CD. “Untitled” is found on the first disc, while the original theatrical cut is on the second. The extras are sprinkled on both.
Video wise, both versions of Almost Famous contain excellent 1.85:1 anamorphic transfers. These are essentially identical transfers; with no very noticeable differences in quality of the new footage versus the rest of the film. These transfers are clean of any dirt, with very minimal grain, and overall just look great. Almost Famous is truly a beautiful movie and this transfer does it great justice. Colors are nice and vibrant, while darks and blacks are deep and rich. No digital artifacting or compression problems are present. Overall, this transfer leads little to nothing to be complained about.
Audio wise, the two cuts of Almost Famous vary a bit. The original version of the movie again contains 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, whereas Untitled just gets the Dolby Digital treatment. Although a DTS track would have been nice; it would have taken extras space away; and for that reason alone, I am okay with its removal. On the original cut, both 5.1 tracks sounded very good, but the DTS track was the clear winner in my opinion, giving a slightly more detailed sound, and just overall a more surrounding, rich, listening experience. However, this is not to say the Dolby Digital track was inferior, just not quite up to the DTS track. I would say quality wise, if the DTS track was 100% quality, the Dolby Digital track is about 95%; it was that slight. On Untitled the Dolby Digital track is again very good, grabbing essentially the same track from the theatrical cut, and adding the new material here and there. The new material does not blend perfectly (audio wise) into the movie, but overall the difference in quality and mastering is very minimal, and should go unnoticed to non-nit-pickers. The theatrical cut again contains a French 5.1 Dolby Digital track. Both cuts contain a Dolby Surround 2.0 track, new French and Spanish subtitles, and English Captions.
Extras wise, the Almost Famous Bootleg edition goes much further then its original counterpart; as to be expected. As said earlier, the original featured a HBO “Making of” which is not included in this collection. This really is not a big deal as this feature was not a very robust making of; more of a promo piece if you will for those who had yet to see the film. The “Fever Dog” video is also not included, yet is not a big loss as more Stillwater concert footage is included.
On the first disc, starting it off, we have an audio opener by Cameron Crowe giving us a short little speech about the bootleg collection. We are also treated to much better animated menus for the DVD, designed in such a way to portray that “bootleg” feel. Next, we have the prize of the first disc, an exceptional audio commentary track with Cameron Crowe, his mother Alice, and a few other friends that pop in here and there. This is truly an outstanding track, especially when considering the fact that Crowe is essentially watching his young life on film. Although it should be obvious, this commentary track is only available on “Untitled”. No point in doing two. Overall, I can easily say this is one of my favorite audio commentary tracks in my collection.
Next up, is an older interview with Cream’s Lester Bang; this is an amusing short bit, giving us some insight into the man behind the character. Next, we get a very cool short film entitled B-Sides, which was shot by Crowe himself; which shows us how Almost Famous began; from auditions to filming. It is a short extra, but it is definitely worth a watch. Next we get a more in-depth look at Crowe’s seven Rolling Stone articles; this time with audio commentary at the beginning. Finally on disc one, we have Crowe’s Top 10 albums of 1973, again with commentary from Crowe. This is a great featurette for those that want to strengthen their music collection.
The last extra on disc one is a behind the scenes montage (which rocks), running at about four minutes, with the demo version of Nancy Wilson's (Crowe’s wife, member of “Heart”) “Love Comes And Goes.“ This is just a nice extra that I must say is one of my favorites on the disc one.
Onto disc two. Here we have a few deleted scenes (yes some stuff will still cut) to start with. For these we get short pre-commentaries on to why they were cut and why they were filmed. Next, we get a very nice fifteen-minute Stillwater concert in Cleveland. This really looks and sounds great; and I must say, for a fictional band, they can rock. Finally we have the much talked about, yet never included, Stairway to Heaven scene. It seemed no matter what Crowe tried, he could not get the rights to the tune; and therefore, this scene could never be in the movie. However, using some cueing (to start up the song when the scene begins) we can see what Crowe had in mind for this truly great, yet never included scene. Next, we are given the entire script of the movie, a nice inclusion. Finally, we have the traditional filmographies and production notes, and one theatrical trailer (there were two on the original release). Overall, these are some great extras, all of which are worth a look.
The aforementioned supplemental audio CD gives us six complete Stillwater songs, and overall is a nice extra that I can definitely see popping in from time to time. Crowe’s quickly created fictional band is truly impressive.
Almost Famous is purely a great movie. If you have yet to see, and are a fan of film, I cannot imagine you not liking this film. It has everything a movie of this type needs: great acting, writing, direction, cinematography and just overall heart. This bootleg edition goes over and above the theatrical cut; giving us a better flowing, more detailed experience that should be even more liked then the already great theatrical cut. What more can I say? This is a must own DVD for a must see film. Highly recommended.
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