Who remembers the epic movie line quoted in the headline above? I won’t keep you in suspense. It’s Daniel Stern, as one of the “cutters” in BREAKING AWAY, reflecting on a high school romance that went sour. The above photo is not Cyril’s epiphany, but another movie moment, this one from ALMOST FAMOUS, that is seared in my memory. Loss of innocence personified when a young budding journalist played by Patrick Fugit watches his childhood taxiing down a runway into eternity.
Haven’t we all been there before? And isn’t that what good movies do to you? They take you back to this place in your life where everything was laser-focused and razor sharp and one word, one look, one kiss could leave you topsy turvy for weeks. Months!
Back then our parents didn’t race us to the shrink and there were probably no good meds for the myriad of teenaged life disappointments that mirrored the movies. Who can forget John Cusack in SAY ANYTHING or HIGH FIDELITY? He was the poster child for teenaged angst. We all thought we were 50 feet tall on the big screen and the romances were as thrilling and precipitous as the heartbreaks.
Half a lifetime and two marriages + 4 kids later, I return to those films and while I still feel the pangs of adolescent rejection, the lens has changed. Now I watch and wonder about the dreams hatched, the goals pursued – which came true, which were lost in the dust storm of reality that becomes the roadmap of our modern day lives?
ALMOST FAMOUS holds a perennial top spot on my All-time Top Ten List because it hits every note. Cameron Crowe’s auteur masterpiece, released in 2000 but set in 1973, is his roman a clef about his preternatural pursuit of a music writing career for the fabled magazine, Rolling Stone. The late, amazing Phillip Seymour Hoffman killed as the gimlet-eyed rock and roll journalist who mentored the 16-year old character of William and set him off on tour in pursuit of the ultimate road story of a band loosely modeled after The Eagles. Kate Hudson lacerated our 1970s hearts playing the exotic, yet ultimately small-town charming Penny Lane – the groupie who leads the band of groupies (including Anna Paquin) in a rock and roll life that almost felt touchable back then. Frances McDormand played the brimstone & fire spouting mother to William, urging the lead member of the band (Billy Crudup) to tell her son “not to take drugs.”
Movies become classics for lots of reasons, but I think the only one that matters is what it does to you. Don’t we all have one movie from our youth (or “Yout” if you’re a COUSIN VINNY fan) that takes us home? ALMOST FAMOUS is my passport and inspiration. I look at William’s face as he watches Penny Lane disappear on an Eastern Airline jet from view and from his life. Something has ended. In real life, something always is.
But if you have Netflix or Amazon Prime and a TV set, you can go back. It can be bittersweet, but it can also be a shivery joy. Those dreams were real, the romances palpable. And sometimes an hour spent in the past can be an intoxicating and much needed jolt for all the beautiful and unfolding future. Especially when the present is so tinged with bleakness. Try it. It might just be the smile you were looking for this weekend.