AP Film Studies: Almost Factual

Excavating classic-rock history in Almost Famous.

Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous is a love letter to rock music that blurs fact and fiction. Like most people in the film, Kate Hudson's character, Penny Lane, is based on a real person: Portlander Pennie Lane Trumbull. She'll be at the Hollywood Theatre (7:30 pm Friday, Sept. 26) to discuss the film and ignore questions about mud sharks.

With Trumbull back in the spotlight, we decided to investigate the film’s other references to classic-rock history.

Black Sabbath's concert at the San Diego Sports Arena

In the film, young William Miller's first assignment for Rolling Stone is to cover this show, which in real life featured an opening set by British prog-rock outfit Gentle Giant. The fictional opener, Stillwater, is based on the Allman Brothers—whom Crowe profiled in his first story—with a little Who, Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin thrown in. But no Gentle Giant. In the liner notes for Acquiring the Taste, the band's stated goal was to "expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of being very unpopular." Mission accomplished. 

Electrocution by microphone

Billy Crudup's guitarist, Russell Hammond, is badly shocked when he touches an ungrounded mic onstage. He survives. The incident was inspired by Les Harvey, guitarist for Scottish blues-rock band Stone the Crows, who touched an ungrounded mic with wet hands in front of a large crowd in Wales in 1972. He died.


Rolling Stone hates Led Zeppelin

Philip Seymour Hoffman's Lester Bangs lambasts Rolling Stone for criticizing Cream and Led Zeppelin. Indeed, in March 1969, the magazine took digs at Zep's debut for its "unimaginative songs." It gave the album's reissue 4½ out of 5 stars.


"I am a golden god!"

Russell, high on acid at a house party in Topeka, yells, "I am a golden god!" before jumping off the roof into a pool. In fact, it was Robert Plant who said this as he was photographed in 1975 for The Atlantic Monthly while overlooking the Sunset Strip from a balcony of the Continental Hyatt House. He was reportedly sober during the shoot.


Near-crash of the band's airplane

In a Rolling Stone interview, Crowe said the climactic flight scene was inspired by two experiences. The first was a near-crash when Crowe hitched a ride with a roadie from the Who. The second was with Heart, including Crowe's then-wife, Nancy Wilson, on a flight that made an emergency landing in Tupelo (as in the movie). Also, as in the movie, people revealed dark secrets as death loomed. 



Cleveland hotel Swingos was a nonstop party in the '70s. It was the scene of Led Zeppelin orgies and Bowie freakouts. Yul Brynner got into a late-night screaming match with Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple. Elvis and Sinatra were regulars. It is now a Comfort Inn. 

Also Showing: 

  1. Pix presents The Goonies, because Oregon law dictates that every screen in the state show it at least once a year. Pix Patisserie. Dusk Wednesday, Sept. 24.
  1. Between the cheesy one-liners, excessive gore, even-more-excessive biceps, rampant homoeroticism and endless bullets, Predator might be the most Schwarzeneggerian movie out there. Kiggins Theatre. Opens Friday, Sept. 26.
  1. In 1969, Midnight Cowboy launched a sexual awakening in American cinema, and the rise of independent film. Academy Theater. Sept. 26-Oct 2.
  1. SuperTrash unleashes the insane, hypersexual Last Tango in Paris. Maybe get that popcorn without the butter. Laurelhurst Theater. Sept. 26-Oct. 2.
  1. Hecklevision takes on Robocop, which is weird, since it’s an ultraviolent satire that itself heckles Reagan-era America, drone warfare and consumerism. Oh well. Robocop on the big screen is still Robocop on the big screen, even if it means enduring a theater full of glowing phone screens. Hollywood Theatre. 9:30 pm Saturday, Sept. 27.
  1. Celebrate the Children’s Television Workshop with clips from Sesame Street, Schoolhouse Rock and more. Oh, and beer, the best chaser for nostalgia. Hollywood Theatre. 2 pm Saturday, Sept. 27.
  1. Martin Scorsese has long been like a cool, nerdy uncle who loves making lists of obscure movies you must watch, as with his Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. Sept. 28-Oct 7. See nwfilm.org for full listings.
  1. Buster Keaton’s The General gets a live organ score. Hollywood Theatre. 1 pm Sunday, Sept. 28.
  1. Cannibal monks, zombies, yacht parties, piranhas and rocket launchers? Fuck yes, 1982’s Raw Force. Hollywood Theatre. 7:30 pm Tuesday, Sept. 30.

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