Graded on a Curve: Almost Famous 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition, Almost Famous 4K Ultra HD Steelbook

Rock music fans can have a healthy debate about what the best rock concert or documentary movie of all time is, but most would likely agree that Almost Famous from 2000, written and directed by Cameron Crowe, is the best, post-A Hard Day’s Night fiction movie ever that uses rock music as its backdrop.

By 2000, Crowe had established himself as a screenwriter and film director with films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (screenplay) and Jerry McGuire, which he wrote and directed, among other films. With Almost Famous, Crowe created his most personal movie. Music was always important in Crowe’s films. His love, knowledge and passion for music came from his years as a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine during its ’70s San Francisco heyday.

He began at the age of 16 and the film’s main character, William Miller (played by Patrick Fugit), becomes a reporter for Rolling Stone when he is 15. This coming-of-age story gives us plenty of insights into the main character’s family, while also providing an authentic peek behind the scenes of the ’70s rock era.

While for the most part affectionately told and a little starry-eyed, it is still the most accurate film portrait of that heady time in music and American culture. One of the keys to the story is the role of the fictional band Stillwater and its music and collective persona, which are also important parts of this reissue. The fictitious group are played by actors Billy Crudup playing Russell Hammond, Jason Lee playing Jeff Bebe, John Fedevich playing Ed Vallencourt, and Mark Kozelek playing Larry Fellows.

There actually was a band named Stillwater. The Georgia-based group released two albums on Capricorn Records in the late ’70s. The group approved the use of their name for the film. Other stars of the film included Frances McDormand as Fugit’s character’s mother, Kate Hudson in her breakout role as groupie Pennie Lane, Philip Seymour Hoffman as noise-boy journalist Lester Bangs, and a host of supporting actors including Anna Paquin, Zooey Deschanel, Jimmy Fallon, Marc Maron, and even Peter Frampton, who, along with Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, were responsible for some of the Stillwater music.

The film celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2020, but in 2001 the film and the soundtrack album were reissued in many formats. For the soundtrack album there are a single CD, a 5CD, a 2LP, and a 6LP version, as well as a Super Deluxe Edition. This review will cover the super deluxe edition. There is also a new limited edition Blu-ray version of the movie and 4K Ultra HD Steelbook, covered here.

First off, the super deluxe music reissue edition must be considered the soundtrack reissue of the year. While the Uber All Things Must Pass box set deservedly received a Grammy nomination for Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package category, it’s inconceivable that this set didn’t also receive a nomination in that category. Also, considering what one gets in this box, the list price of $300 (discounted to $220 on Amazon as of this writing) is actually good value for the money.

The huge box, limited to 1,500 copies, includes five CDs, seven 180-gram vinyl LPs enclosed in three double-album gatefold jackets, and one six-song single album jacket, with the albums in poly-lined sleeves. Also included are a seven-inch, three song vinyl EP and a hardcover book. There are 36 previously unreleased tracks. All of that is really just the basics. The extras and memorabilia included will not just thrill fans of the original movie and soundtrack album, but they are done in the same creative and authentic manner that made the film so beloved.

There are one color and two black-and-white film stills, a handbill-sized Stillwater concert poster, a double album-sized Stillwater poster that pays homage to the inner spread of Joel Bernstein’s photo inside the gatefold of Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush album, two laminated Stillwater backstage passes, four stick-on Stillwater backstage passes, a Gibson/Stillwater guitar pick and three business cards—one for Ben Fong-Torres of Rolling Stone magazine, one for Lester Bangs of Creem magazine, and one for Stillwater’s manager. The hardcover book that houses the five CDs also comes with additional memorabilia. It includes two Stillwater ticket stubs, an oversized Stillwater poster, a replica of the Rolling Stone cover story on Stillwater by William Miller, and a 40-page booklet.

The first three CDs and the first six LPs offer up a healthy dose of classic and underground rock from the early ’70s, with some film dialogue and Stillwater music thrown in. CD four includes six Stillwater tracks, seven Stillwater demos, and three Stillwater backstage jams. CD five includes the original seven-track soundtrack score by Nancy Wilson of Heart and fourteen of her outtakes. The artwork for the vinyl albums is also a major draw and quite creative. The gatefold-jacket, album cover of albums five and six pay homage to photographer Jim Marshall’s iconic cover of the Allman Brothers Band Live at the Fillmore East album.

The music here not from Stillwater and not from Nancy Wilson is heavy on ’70s classic rock, but also features many who also started in the ’60s. There are the big British artists such as The Who, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Yes, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, and Free, but also American groups such as the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. There are also the more American pop artists of the time such as Todd Rundgren and The Raspberries, along with thoughtful singer-songwriter-based music such as Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, and Elton John.

The West Coast, where Crowe grew up and where the original Rolling Stone magazine had its offices, is also represented, either with groups from the area or with those who eventually made their mark there, including The Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac. Steely Dan and Little Feat are on the soundtrack, but are groups that don’t fit into any one particular genre or geographical location. Stevie Wonder is one of the few artists from the world of R&B included. Canada is represented by The Guess Who and Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Edgier music included here that prefigures punk includes Iggy and the Stooges and the MC5. Them, The Seeds, and Jimi Hendrix are ’60s acts included here.

Of course, all of this great music and memorabilia wouldn’t be possible without the original movie. The film has been reissued on Blu-ray and as a 4K Ultra HD Steelbook. This edition, like the music box set, includes many extras. First off, there is a new 4K film transfer, supervised by Crowe. There is the original theatrical release, along with the “Bootleg” cut. There are also an extended interview with Crowe and an audio commentary by him.

Other bonus features include the making of Almost Famous, an audio interview with Lester Bangs, Cameron Crowe’s top albums of 1973, music videos for the Stillwater song “Fever Dogs,” an audio recording of a Stillwater concert, along with Rolling Stone magazine articles, the film’s script, a theatrical trailer, extended scenes, unhidden Easter Eggs, and much more.

I can’t imagine another non-documentary, non-concert, post-A Hard Day’s Night music movie that has produced a collection of such creative reissues, or deserves such a treatment. Almost Famous is a movie one wants to watch over and over again. And after each viewing, a deep-dive into this all-encompassing box set is the ultimate backstage pass to the ’70s rock scene. With the box set you may not be famous, but you will be able to tell everyone you’re with the band and they will believe you.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A+

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