The Hero's Journey in Cameron Crowe's Film “Almost Famous”
Almost Famous (2000) is a dramatization of writer/director Cameron Crowe’s real-life experiences as a teenage rock reporter for Rolling Stone. Based on thinly-veiled autobiographical material from the precocious beginnings of Crowe’s early career, the screenplay shapes sentimental memories into movie magic. But how did Crowe give his own coming-of-age tale such universal appeal? A closer look reveals that Almost Famous, like most films worth their salt, is yet another incarnation of the greatest and only mythological adventure, “The Hero’s Journey.” This relationship can be explained using the framework of Joseph Campbell’s phenomenal book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, along with certain terms and interpretations from The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.
William Miller, our unlikely hero, lives at home with his protective mother Elaine and rebellious older sister, Anita. His ORDINARY WORLD is the sheltered existence of a San Diego junior high school student. When Anita has a fight with her mother and decides to leave home to become a stewardess, her parting words to William make her the HERALD of his adventures to come. With the car packed and running, Anita takes hold of William on the front lawn, looks him dead in the eye and says: “One day, you’ll be cool.” Under his bed, the stack of albums she has left for him includes the Who’s Tommy, with a note taped to it. “Listen to Tommy with a candle burning and you will see your entire future,” it reads prophetically. And so it was written. Rock music is about to change William forever.
In the next scene, we are introduced to an older William—now fifteen and in high school—obsessively scratching band names into his notebook during class. It is time for the appearance of his SUPERNATURAL AID “to supply the amulets and advice that the hero will require.” (Campbell 72) William goes to meet the famous rock critic, Lester Bangs, who is being interviewed at a local radio station. Over lunch, Lester initiates his role as MENTOR to the aspiring young journalist, warning him against making friends with the rock stars lest he lose his objectivity to write about them. “You have to build your reputation on being honest… and unmerciful,” he says repeatedly. Seeing that William is serious about his quest, Lester offers him a bona fide writing assignment—1,000 words on Black Sabbath—effectively issuing the CALL TO ADVENTURE.
William is a willing hero. He doesn’t refuse the call. It’s his mother that needs convincing. “As long as I know this is just a hobby,” she says, dropping her son off at a Black Sabbath concert. Her reluctance evokes the “protective aspect of the THRESHOLD GUARDIAN” (Campbell 82). Notebook in hand, William knocks at the backstage door. The surly bouncer that answers is the personification of another aspect of the THRESHOLD GUARDIAN, an ogre of ill will who slams the door on William because he’s “not on the list.”...