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 ass…
…to try to get back together with her, she tricks him into showing up on William’s doorstep instead. The two finally sit down to an interview together and we discover that Russell has called and come clean to the editors of Rolling Stone about the truth of William’s story. The film’s climax is thus resolved as its closing shot depicts a bundle of bound Rolling Stone magazines landing on the pavement with a thud.Almost Famous tells the story of an uncommon adolescence, too unusual for audiences to relate to on a personal level, yet with a common resonance that speaks to millions. This effect can’t have been achieved on accident. Far from just a haphazard reminiscence, the screenplay succeeds by arranging its elements along the symbolism of our collective consciousness. Therefore, using the outline of “The Hero’s Journey” as the basis for analysis, we see how Almost Famous has also been wrought from the power of this infinite myth.
Works CitedCampbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.
Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 2nd ed. Studio City: Michael Weise Productions, 1998.