Finding the perfect song to weave into a movie scene is a daunting task. Whether it’s used comedically, to reminisce, or to evoke certain emotions, the right tune can be the key to capturing a particular moment that will linger in a viewer’s mind for years to come. With Rocketman soaring into theaters this weekend, it’s the opportune time to look back on the impact Elton John’s music has made, not just in society, but in the cinema as well.
Elton is one of those artists whose songs transcend generations, bringing people together in all of the ways that a scene from a well-made movie can. Many of his songs emit lively energy, guaranteed to ignite even the smallest spark within a room that has the power to spread like a dazzling and infectious wildfire. While some, much more graceful and patient in their execution, still make an unforgettable impact with the story that they have to tell. This ability is all thanks to the brilliant wordsmith who is Elton John’s long-time collaborator, Bernie Taupin. The dynamic duo has assembled a discography that continues to grow and thrive 52 years later. Over the years, many of their songs have made their way to the silver screen, and when they have, they always find a magical way to relate a moment on-screen with its audience. But none have hit the mark quite as well as ‘Tiny Dancer’ in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous.
Now, this isn’t discounting Elton’s other works in film, like his ineffable composition on The Lion King soundtrack for example, it’s simply celebrating his innate ability to create a lasting memory with something as simple as a song. To be honest, simplicity is certainly not a quality to be associated with his songs. They’re stories that seep into the subconscious and connect the listener with whatever’s unfolding on-screen, and what better place to feature one of his greatest hits then in a movie about musicians.
Crowe’s film is both a coming-of-age journey and a meditation on his own experience in the music industry as a reporter for Rolling Stone. It’s not one to gloat about the glory and riches of being a rockstar. Instead, it drifts through the reality of it all and lulls in the small, personable moments that make the greatest impact on an individual. The 1973 setting of Almost Famous is palpable through the atmosphere, styles, and personality traits of the individuals that the film is centered on, but most importantly it’s through the music that blasts through everyone’s speakers. It was a time when masterful artists like David Bowie and The Who dominated the airwaves, and the film’s central character, William, admires them all. So much so that he winds up with an internship writing for Rolling Stone, landing him with the opportunity to cover the fictionalized band Stillwater on their cross-country tour. It’s during this time that William also meets the rebellious leader of the “Band-Aids”, Penny Lane. A plucky young girl who boasts her clan is not groupies, they’re there for the music… to inspire the music.
William is almost immediately immersed into the unpredictable, exclaiming to Penny that, “sometimes I think I live in a different world.” Everyone around him lives a life of excess, but he somehow manages to keep a good head on his shoulders. He’s what keeps the film grounded, preventing it from getting too carried away, like a rockstar with the world at their fingertips. But much like life, there are moments when situations do get out of hand, and no matter how hard you try to, you can't stop it.
After a spat with the band, leaving the ultimate question of their future together lingering in the air, lead guitarist Russell Hammond sets off to find a party. It’s in this moment when William begins to see the turbulence that comes with collaboration, adding a little realism to the situation and those that he's surrounded by. On stage the band appears unbreakable, like “golden gods”, but in reality, they’re fearful and unsure. William realizes that no one knows what the future holds for them... not the band, himself, or even the seemingly unstoppable Penny Lane.
The next morning, the band’s manager tracks down Russell. As they drag him back on the tour bus, ‘Tiny Dancer’ begins to play. The opening piano chords cut the tension in the air like a knife. Soon, everyone joins in to belt the chorus. Even as William leans over to tell Penny that he has to go home, she tells him that he is... and at that moment, it truly feels like it. It’s a beautiful scene due to the ability that 'Tiny Dancer' has to unite this group of individuals over their mutual love of music -- causing the anger, fear, and sadness to wash away.
In the beginning, Lester Bangs makes a fantastic statement: “music, you know, true music - not just rock ‘n’ roll - it chooses you. It lives in your car or alone listening to your headphones, you know, with the cast scenic bridges and angelic choirs in your brain. It’s a place apart from the vast, benign lap of America.” And that’s exactly what Elton’s music is: a mode of transportation over the cast scenic bridges of your brain, set to take you away from the troubles that currently beset you and immerse you into a moment of solidarity with those you love most.