It can be hard to predict which movies will have staying power and which ones will fade from cultural memory soon after their premiere. When a film does manage to tap into classic status, it can transcend generations and become a beloved film for decades.
Almost Famous is one of those films. Director Cameron Crowe was treading familiar ground by looking at youth culture from the not-so-distant past. The film (released in 2000) takes a nostalgic look at the early 1970s music scene. While many found the film inspirational and fun, some of the real-life individuals who were used as models for the characters cried foul. This includes the inspiration for Kate Hudson’s famous character, Penny Lane.
Penny Lane is a crucial part of ‘Almost Famous’
The movie posters for Almost Famous featured a close-up of Kate Hudson’s face bedecked in red lipstick and framed in cascading golden curls. The title is printed across her large, round sunglasses. Penny Lane (the character Hudson portrayed) is not actually the protagonist of the show. That honor would go to Patrick Fugit’s character William, an aspiring music journalist who lands a dream gig following up-and-coming rock band Stillwater on tour — while he’s still a teenager.
Talented but naive and passionate but sheltered, William finds Penny Lane to be both guide and fascinating love interest. She’s a “Band Aid,” one of the young women and girls (who never want to be mistaken for groupies) who follow the band from city to city and serve as inspirational muses.
Penny Lane is having an affair with Stillwater lead Russell (played by Billy Crudup), but when the tour brings him back to his actual girlfriend, Penny Lane is unceremoniously dropped from his plans. William, enamored with Penny Lane and disgusted with her mistreatment, pens a scathingly honest report of the band and all its foibles.
Penny Lane was a mash-up of many real-life people
There was no real-life Penny Lane as a singular person, but there were plenty of inspirations who helped inform the composite character of Penny Lane in Almost Famous. As IndieWire reports, Pamela Des Barres was one of the biggest inspirations for the character. Des Barres has expressed frustration with not being consulted directly in creating the film. Hudson read Des Barres’ 1987 memoir I’m With the Band and hung up pictures of the woman in her dressing room. Des Barres claims that Penny Lane’s style directly reflects her own look of the time.
Aside from feeling professionally dismissed, Des Barres also took issue with the film’s portrayal of the role she and girls like her served during this era of music. In the film, Penny Lane nearly dies from a drug overdose because she’s so despondent over Russell’s rejection. Des Barres says this portrayal is “horribly misogynistic.”
Des Barres expanded, “the groupie like she’s portrayed, is pathetic. I knew all the main groupies in the heyday of groupiedom. None of them would have done that. There was always someone else coming to town.”
Pamela Des Barres paints a different picture of groupie-muse life
Des Barres further expounded on her issues with the film in an interview with Vulture. As someone who was romantically linked to men like Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, and Waylon Jennings, Des Barres knows a thing or two about what it’s like to consort with the famous men of the 1970s music scene.
Des Barres, now in her 70s, admits that many of her fellow groupie friends love the film for giving them more depth and character than most stereotypical portrayals of their kind. However, Des Barres can’t let the film off the hook that easily. “I was a woman doing what I wanted to do, period. And that was feminism to me,” Des Barres explained of her exploits of the day. Penny Lane was turned into a victim, but Des Barres remembers herself as the one with the power.