Once again the wonderful Moriarty, reaches out and plops a really quite wonderful report on Cameron Crowe's upcoming, yet untitled, project. Word has been bopping around the circles of Hollywood that... Spielberg read this script and was heard to say it was the best script he had ever read. Now... That's just buzz, and it could be part of popular mythology or hype.... But we have our own resident genius who loves not only scripts and films.. but music as well (save for Holmes' violin solos!) As for Cameron Crowe... I am always expecting less from him than I always get. With JERRY MAGUIRE... I thought that it would be some sort of Yuppie Mantra Movie... but it was a whole lot more. With FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH... it was just supposed to be one of the pack of teenage high school flicks.... instead... it was/is a magically deliriously wonderful film. Let's see what is in store next from Cameron Crowe.... Professor... if you will....
Hey, Head Geek...
It’s just after 3:00 in the morning right now, and it’s quiet at the Moriarty Labs. Everyone else here is asleep, and I’ve been reading for the last hour and a half, listening to music as I read. Of all the things I do for AICN -- the interviews, the trips, the test screenings -- this is my favorite, that quiet time when it’s just me, a stack of scripts, and various CDs in random rotation. When I’m here on the page, I talk about films, but one of my favorite things in the world is that first play of a new album. Earlier today I picked up Blur’s 13 and Underworld’s BEAUCOUP FISH, and I’ve played each of them twice now. An average night might include some John Zorn, some old Miles Davis, Carter Burwell’s MILLER’S CROSSING score, and Tom Waits’ SMALL CHANGE. I love it when someone challenges my ears just as much as I love it when some filmmaker pushes me, dares me, shows me something new. I guess the thing I really respond to in art of any kind is honesty.
Forgive me if it sounds like I’m rambling. I’m not. All this talk of honesty and music and art was inspired by the script I had the pleasure of reading this evening. Right now it’s untitled, but the name of writer/director Cameron Crowe on the cover was more than enough to make it a must-read as soon as I got it. One of my henchmen was in the Labs at the time, and I read him the first 40 pages of the script before we were interrupted. I wasn’t able to pick it back up and start over, reading the whole thing, start to finish, until tonight. I’m sorry I waited. It’s an unqualified success, a home run, even in this early December 1998 draft, rich, dense, and astonishingly textured.
Small wonder. This is easily the most autobiographical thing Cameron Crowe has written so far. I’m not pretending to know the intimate details of his life, but based on what I do know, I’m sure he has drawn heavily upon his early days as a journalist to help craft the story of William Miller. Despite what the press has written about how this film was supposed to star Brad Pitt, this is not the story of the rock band. He would have thrown the film out of whack, overpowered it. First and foremost, it is the story of an exceptionally bright teenage kid whose life is complicated by his budding talent as a journalist, his advanced place in school (he’s been skipped a grade), and especially by his mother Elaine, a hell of a role for some lucky actress. She’s a teacher whose husband abandoned her with three kids. She’s eccentric, dead set against rock music and hippie culture, devotedly religious. Her oldest son is already gone, and her daughter Anita is about to explode at 16 when the film opens in 1969. There’s a really long prologue here, and it’s the section of the script that many development people would say could be cut seamlessly. I pray to God that Crowe’s in enough control of the film that he can guarantee that won’t happen. The prologue is really wonderful as Anita confronts Elaine in what seems to be a very old, very bitter argument. It starts small when Elaine catches her trying to sneak Simon & Garfunkel’s BOOKENDS into the house, but quickly spills over into other issues -- Anita’s boyfriend Darryl, kissing, . One of the many things they argue about is William and some secret about him. Anita pushes Elaine to tell him the truth about his age. William’s an outcast at school. All the other 13 year olds make fun of him because none of them know he’s skipped a grade. William’s tormented in the showers for having no pubes. He’s so much smaller than the other boys that sports aren’t an option. Elaine finally admits that she actually skipped William two grades and started him in school early. Even as he tries to absorb that he’s an 11 year old 6th grader, the fight keeps accelerating until Anita leaves, taking everything important with her. Just before she goes, she whispers something important to William. “Look under your bed. It’ll set you free.” Later, in the aftermath of the fight, William checks under his bed and finds a black leatherette bag filled with albums. From the way Crowe describes the contents of the bag, you know immediately what music means to this man. You know when he grew up, and you know so much about him based on which albums he names. It’s almost embarrassingly personal.
“He flips through the amazing, subversive cache of music. Cream’s WHEELS OF FIRE, the seminal Bob Dylan bootleg GREAT WHITE WONDER... the Rolling Stones’ GET YER YA YA’S OUT... The Beach Boys’ PET SOUNDS... ABRAXAS by Santana... Jethro Tull’s STAND UP... The Mothers of Invention’s WE’RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY... LED ZEPPELIN... CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH... Miles Davis’ BITCHES BREW... and The Who’s TOMMY... with a note taped to it.
Listen to TOMMY with a candle burning
and you will see your entire future.
The heady effect of all these albums registers, as we see him lighting a candle.”
And just like that, as The Who’s “Sparks” plays, it’s 1973, and William is a 15 year old who’s about to graduate from high school.
The whole script is riddled with music cues. If DreamWorks ponies up and buys all the songs Crowe’s indicated in the script, then this is going to be an amazing collection of music, the much, much hipper FORREST GUMP. And it’s not going to just be a bunch of hits tossed together because they “demo well,” either. This script is the work of a man who’s drunk on music, or at least who was at one time. It’s frankly amazing to me that Crowe didn’t find a job in music somewhere and ride it out. That he’s as good a writer as he is and as talented a director would also support the theory that William is supposed to be Crowe. In love with rock and roll, the kid has started writing articles about music. He idolized Lester Bangs, and Crowe is audacious enough to actually use Bangs as a character in the film.
For those of you who don’t know who Lester Bangs is, he’s to rock music what Pauline Kael is to film. At a time when the art form in question was at its finest, there was no more lively and passionate critic. Bangs was the editor of CREEM magazine, and a celebrity in his own right. He was an amazing writer, and there are collections of his work that are still available, still relevant today. William submits his work to Bangs, then actually meets the man. Bangs is charmed by this kid, this boy, who writes with such a clear adult voice, and he encourages him, hiring him to interview Black Sabbath at a San Diego tour stop.
It’s the opening band for Sabbath, a creation of Crowe’s named Stillwater, who become the engine that drives the rest of the film. William never gets his Sabbath interview because of his initial encounter with Stillwater and their charismatic guitarist Russell Hammond. He’s also introduced to the world of the girls who insist that they’re not groupies -- they’re “Band Aids,” there to keep the band healthy and happy. The leader of these girls is Penny Lane, a magnetic figure who provides the final corner of the film’s central triangle. William finds himself seduced by this intimate look at real rock stardom, finally starting the main plot of the film into motion.
All of this, keep in mind, is in the first 40 pages of the scripts. There’s still an entire regular length script to go at that point. There’s no denying it. The script’s long but that’s a good thing when you’re in the hands of someone this capable and this passionate about a story and a group of characters. If JERRY MAGUIRE didn’t convince you that Crowe can write great characters, nothing will. Personally, I love the way he writes now that I’ve actually read his work. The care that this story is told with is evident from the language of the script. It’s so specific, so real, that you just know this film is as much memory as it is fiction. He invests each of the characters in this big sprawling film with a complete soul, messy and rough around the edges, but alive.
William gets a chance to write a piece on Stillwater for ROLLING STONE, and must convince Elaine to let him go, even as final exams and graduation approach. More importantly, he has to actually get out there and do it -- get the story. As William joins the band on tour and starts trying to put a story together, I found myself relating in a major way. Recently, I’ve been adopting various guises and crossing over into the world of “legitimate” journalism (which somehow implies that my work here isn’t). Covering film and watching films are very different things, and in the past few months I have felt every one of the emotions that William goes through in the script. I always hate when I see journalists portrayed the way they are in Drew Barrymore’s current NEVER BEEN KISSED. In this script, Crowe has dared to lay it all out there. It’s a fearless script because it’s not afraid to portray every character with their flaws right out front. These people aren’t made worthless by their faults, though. Instead, it’s those same faults and weaknesses that make them fascinating. The dynamic of Stillwater as one member of the band clearly emerges as the media figure, leaving the others behind, is drawn with incredible specificity. The complicated nature of the relationships between the Band Aids and the band members is handled well, without any of the casual misogyny that would be so easy here. William is not some kind of wonder kid who does everything right. He’s 15. He’s in over his head. He’s awed and horrified and exhilarated and confused and hurt and moved by everything he witnesses, and he does his best to make sense of it. He genuinely tries to balance the influence of his mother, his sister, Lester Bangs, and his new friends Russell and Penny.
JERRY MAGUIRE confirmed a number of things about Crowe, one of which is that he has a sentimental streak a mile wide. He manages to find these wonderful eccentric ways to demonstrate that part of his nature, too. SAY ANYTHING had the unforgettable image of Lloyd Dobler with his boom box held high, blaring Peter Gabriel. Only a Grinch could have remained unmoved when Dorothy shuts Jerry Maguire up with, “You had me at hello.” This film plays with some big emotions as well. Personally, I pray that Crowe and company keep a tight lid on the title of the next-to-final song indicated in the script. All the music cuts but that one are identified. In this one crucial moment, it simply reads, “Song to be chosen later.” I trust that Crowe will find the right piece of music to sum up all the ideas in that scene, all the emotion, and when we hear it in the theater, I am sure it will be crushing and unforgettable.
This is an exciting script because of the direction it seems to indicate for Cameron Crowe. He’s really carving a niche for himself. He’s quietly become one of the more profound voices in mainstream Hollywood. There’s no denying that JERRY MAGUIRE was a big budget studio picture. I mean, come on... it starred Tom Cruise, for God’s sake. It came out in 1996, too, the so-called “Year of the Indie.” Even so, it stuck out as a shining example of filmmaking for the year, no matter what the budget. As much as I’ve always liked Crowe’s work, I’d never really viewed him as world-class before. I do now, though. He seems to be genuinely growing each time out, and that kind of talent is always exciting. It creates hope that we get to savor from picture to picture. There are plenty of guys working right now -- John Sayles, Tim Burton, the Coen Brothers, John Lassiter, Paul Thomas Anderson, the in-no-way-related Wes Anderson -- who seem to be able to muster a consistent level of artistic achievement. I think it’s phenomenal that he isn’t using Brad Pitt in the film. This cast should be entirely unknown. DreamWorks will be creating an entire ensemble of stars with this picture. I have no idea what the production schedule on this film is. I doubt it’s supposed to be out this year, but if it is indeed set for Christmas, then the Oscar race just got even stickier. This script is that good. I have that much faith.
And imagine -- I wasn’t even going to write to you about this script. I was just going to read it for myself. But how could I do that? After all, this page is all about telling you when we think there’s something special coming. It’s not just my job to write these reports for you guys... it’s a pleasure. I don’t do it for money or for the attention. I do it because I am compelled. I’ve gotten hate mail from people over articles I’ve written. I’ve also gotten fan letters. One of the things I hear over and over is that we must be real geeks to spend all this time writing and thinking about movies. When it’s used like that, “geek” isn’t always a compliment. I don’t care, though. I’m proud of this work. After all, it’s like Lester Bangs says to William late in the film...
“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.”