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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Highly Personal Top New York Movie Moments: #3. Almost Famous

"It's all happening." If there's ever a sentence that describes New York City, it's that one. It's all happening in New York: business, theater, arts, sports, fashion, life. The city that never sleeps, the place where all the world seems gathered in Times Square at 2 a.m., it's the center of everything. In NYC, it's all happening because anything can happen.

"It's all happening" is one of the great lines from Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous. It's the constant refrain of the rock 'n' roll characters because it expresses the very ethos of their lifestyle: limitless possibilities -- for drugs and sex and love and music, for anything that can be experienced. For the rock stars and their groupies (sorry, "Band Aids"), "It's all happening," is both a hopeful declaration and a desperate plea. It all has to happen -- right now, tonight, after the show -- because all these people have is "the moment," the brief window of The Now in order to feel something, anything that will give their lives meaning. Anything for that human connection and a chance to feel alive in this lonely world.

That's why I love the New York sequence in Almost Famous. It manages to capture both the limitless possibilities which are promised by the city as well as the desparate loneliness that lurks around its edges. It give us New York as a world for Cool and Hip and Rich. And then it give us New York for the Melancholy, for the world-weary coming down after the high of champagne and quaaludes. And perhaps best of all, it gives us New York in the 70s not as it was in reality, but as it was made to seem by the movies of that era. The Almost Famous New York sequence is like an amalgam of Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same concert film, Annie Hall, and a Neil Simon play.

And as if the images and writing weren't enough to evoke "1970s New York," Crowe throws in one of the best Elton John songs ever -- Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters -- to play over one of the movie's most climactic moments. If ever there was a song that breathed New York, it is Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters. This swirling, bittersweet ode to the city takes me to Manhattan every time I hear it. The song simply IS New York for me.

All those yellow cabs against the browns and greens and grays of 1970s Manhattan, that mandolin strum, Elton John's voice calling out to the weary streets, a kid recklessly, desperately, dashing out onto the sidewalk to find the girl he loves -- that's New York City.

Cool and slick and chic. New York has moved beyond the already-fading "grooviness" of the hippie culture.

New York is glam, baby.

New York is a suite at the Plaza, gaudy, decadent, and filled with booze and pills and room service, and it's all just expensive set dressing for an adolescent love story. It's an impossibly tragic and romantic moment, a little bit cynical maybe, but also fantasy, a moment that doesn't take itself too seriously even though the heart of the moment is utterly sincere. He's about to go where many, many men have gone before. And he doesn't care. Because he loves her. That's New York.

I can't think of a better description of the magic of New York than this image.

The scene where Penny Lane tells William all her secrets. In the original script, this beautiful moment is set in an airport terminal. Thank God, Cameron Crowe changed that. What better place to walk off a hang-over and open up your heart than in Central Park?

Penny: I guess what I'm trying to say is, that I've done twice the things I said I've done.
William: What about your mom?
Penny: She always said -- 'Marry Up.' Marry someone grand. That's why she named me Lady.
William: She named you Lady?
Penny: Lady Goodman.
William: Lady Goodman? That's... great. [and he means it too]
Penny: Now you know all my secrets.

It's all happening in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, one of my favorite New York movie moments.

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