Los Angeles Times

Essential Crowe

Cameron Crowe showed us the money in "Jerry Maguire" and introduced us to Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." He got us singing along to "Tiny Dancer" in "Almost Famous" and inspired us to blast Peter Gabriel through a boombox above our heads in "Say Anything." In "Elizabethtown," out Friday, he proves that we can go home again.

In the midst of all of the memorable scenes, songs and dialogue from Crowe's films, one thing cannot be denied: He's a sentimental guy who makes personal movies meant to be remembered by moviegoers.

Sure, "Vanilla Sky" wasn't based on his experiences (we hope), but Crowe isn't hesitant to put his own life onscreen. During an interview last week at Chicago's Four Seasons Hotel, the writer/director said his latest effort doesn't make him feel so vulnerable.

"In many ways, 'Almost Famous' felt more scarily personal," he said. "Not everything is achingly personal in ['Elizabethtown']. What I really wanted to do was honor the feel of a stranger in a strange land, when the strange land is actually ... your family root system."Of course, "Elizabethtown" has a strong connection to Crowe's life. The story is based on his experiences coping with his father's fatal heart attack.

The film follows Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), who meets and falls for flight attendant Claire (Kirsten Dunst) as he goes to his father's small Kentucky hometown--Crowe's dad was from Elizabethtown, Ky.--to claim his dad's body.

"That scene where Orlando comes into the family kitchen for the visitation dinner, that was a scene I wanted to get right," Crowe said. "That was one of those scenes where you just go, 'I want to make the movie to get that scene.' And also, getting to know my dad a lot after he died was a feeling I felt close to."

Even after filming, Crowe had struggles. "Elizabethtown" wasn't greeted warmly by critics at the Toronto Film Festival, with several saying the movie was too long and disjointed. Yet Crowe was far from discouraged.

"People have said to me, 'Oh, man, how'd you feel about Toronto?' I was like, 'I felt great about Toronto.' We got a standing ovation in the public screening.

"It was only later that I saw that there was some critical sniping that took place. You know, I'll take it," he said. "The movie's going to have the life it's going to have out in the world, and that's when we really will have the perspective to see whether it was good or bad for it to be such a public journey. Seems like it's the character of this movie."

"Elizabethtown" also has a musical character, as do all of Crowe's films. Drawing from his experience as a writer for Rolling Stone, his marriage to Heart singer Nancy Wilson, and his own love of music, Crowe has created unforgettable film moments by choosing just the right songs.

"You want to really honor the music you love and use it great because everything's kinda cool now," Crowe said.

In "Elizabethtown," he taps artists including U2, My Morning Jacket, Tom Petty, Ryan Adams and Elton John to provide the soundtrack to Drew Baylor's search for love, family and self.

Since the screening in Toronto, Crowe cut the 135-minute "work in progress" by nearly 20 minutes, as he had originally intended. The shorter film received a more positive response when it opened the Chicago International Film Festival last week.

Regardless of his critics, Crowe says he knows the film was connecting with viewers.

"When we started showing this movie, even at a far too long length, some people--not everybody--would feel like something deep inside them was scratched, touched, reached, and that always made me feel like we were on the right track," he said.

"It started to touch people in a way I had only known with 'Jerry Maguire,' where sometimes people would stand up after we'd had a screening and go, 'I'm breaking up with my girlfriend and it's a good thing, I know I have to do it now,' " he said. "And you just go, 'Wow, I didn't realize that movie was saying that or was going to reach you in that way.'

"But this movie has that in it, too," he said, "in a far different way."

Matt Pais is the metromix intern. mpais@tribune.com Originally published October 14, 2005.

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