"Almost Famous" is a Modern Myth

A story, unlike a theory, invites embroidery and variation, and indeed stories gain their communicative power by resonance with more primal stories.
-- Jaron Lanier in "One Half Of A Manifesto"

[This web page originated as a piece of email sent to the Wunderland Toast Society mailing list on September 30th, 2000. It has been modified to be more appropriate for this format. This review contains some spoilers, so if you haven't seen this film I suggest you drop whatever else you're doing, go out, see the movie, and then come back and read this.]

Ok, since both Daddy-O and the Haiku Review both went to see "Almost Famous" recently, I figured I toss my two cents into the ring. (Another good movie I saw recently was Trixie.)

"Almost Famous" is a rare type of film. It is a good story, acted and produced well. It's nothing flashy, but the story is rich, and (a couple of times at least) I managed to lose track that this was a movie, and watch it as a story happening to some people.

Part of this is due to the fact that it (more or less) *is* a real story that happened to some real people. The screenwriter really did spend a few weeks on tour with a rock band back when he was 15 years old. The movie isn't documentary-accurate, though. For example, one of the major characters is admittedly an amalgamation of several similiar people. So, clearly, "Almost Famous" is a redaction of the real story, with 25 years of polish.

So it's a good story. Joseph Campbell made a career out of analyzing all of humanity's good stories and breaking them down into building blocks that are common across nearly every earthly culture. His work has led to such widely acclaimed modern myths as the Star Wars series, in case you're not familiar with it.

The Brunching Shuttlecocks' "Self-Made Critic" movie review column states that "Almost Famous" has a couple of deficiencies.

Is it really the perfect movie? Well, it doesn't have a Jedi Knight in it, nor does it have a cute pig, so it's not absolutely perfect, but it definitely becomes the front runner for Best Picture of 2000.

This is the sentence that got me thinking. Maybe if I think "Almost Famous" is a good story, I should use my (admittedly sketchy) knowledge of Campbell to figure out why. I wrote the SMC a letter, pointing out that, in my opinion, "Almost Famous" does contain a Jedi Knight, Lester Bangs of Creem Magazine.

There are other similarities to Star Wars.

There are other similarities to general mythology.

Most importantly, "Almost Famous" follows this outline

It's a fairy tale, and it's a good one. Instead of being set in castles and on battlefields, it's set in hotels and on stages. Instead of communicating by magic, our characters use the telephone. However, it's still a myth, built of the same building blocks as humanity's most cherished myths. It proves that mythology is not just a feature of the long-lost past (as in fantasy) or the imagined future (as in Science Fiction), but is happening all around us, even in what we might consider to be the most ludicrous circumstances.

If you ignored my spoiler warning at the top and read this all the way through anyway, go see the movie now. Good stories like this one can't be spoiled.

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