After reading Bill Simmons’ tribute to “Almost Famous,” which he deems the quintessential movie of the aughts (a.k.a. the ’00s), I felt compelled to track down the “Bootleg Cut” (a.k.a. “Untitled”) to see what the hullabaloo was about. Here is what Simmons had to say about the extra footage in the DC.
Best four extra scenes from the director’s cut: Russell and William talking music before the first Stillwater concert; Jeff Bebe’s interview with William during which he utters quote No. 23; Penny’s birthday cake scene; and Russell and Jeff making up at the end and botching their man-hug. There’s also an 11-minute scene in which William makes his mother listen to “Stairway to Heaven” — yes, the entire song — in an attempt to get her to understand rock ‘n’ roll. It’s indescribable. I loved it; some hated it. Crowe couldn’t get the rights to the song, so it didn’t matter. More importantly, how is this not on YouTube? Wasn’t YouTube invented for stray clips like that?
FYI, quote No. 23 is…
Show me any guy who ever said he didn’t want to be popular, and I’ll show you a scared guy. I’ve studied the entire history of music. Most of the time, the best stuff is the popular stuff. It’s much safer to say popularity sucks, because that allows you to forgive yourself if you suck. And I don’t forgive myself. Do you?
A few thoughts…
– The version I saw had a running time of 2:41 and didn’t include an 11-minute scene where William plays his mother “Stairway to Heaven” in order to convince her that he should be able to complete his assignment for Rolling Stone. I’ve only been able to find that scene here, and since Cameron Crowe was unable to get the rights, the viewer has to play his own copy of the song. I always felt that it was out of character for William’s mother to let him go on tour with a rock band with so little discussion, and this great “Stairway to Heaven” scene fills in some of these blanks. In the version I saw, Elaine’s decision still seemed rushed.
– I have mixed feelings about the other four scenes that Simmons mentioned. I thought Penny’s birthday cake scene was terrific, especially towards the end when Jimmy Fallon’s character broke the news that she wasn’t going to with the band to New York. Kate Hudson’s reaction was a nice bit of acting and the movie is better as a whole because it’s clear that inside the tough exterior of Penny Lane, there is just a normal girl — and she’s in love. I also thought Bebe’s quote about popularity was insightful but not crucial. The other two scenes — Russell’s first interview with William and Jeff and Russell’s make-up scene — were extraneous. Russell’s eagerness and availability to talk contradicted the sense throughout the remainder of the movie that William wouldn’t be able to get his interview with Russell.
I’d recommend “Untitled” to fans of the original that haven’t seen it in a while. Jeff’s problems with Russell seem more fleshed out and the relationship between the two has more closure. In fact, all of the various storylines seem a little deeper, and that’s no surprise since the DC runs about 38 minutes longer.
Does it make it better? I’ll let you be the judge. The movie worked really well in its original form, but after watching the DC, I certainly wouldn’t say that the extra footage hurts the film.