Cameron Crowe: A Positive Spin on Life

In his work and life, the creator of 'Jerry Maguire,' 'Say Anything,' and 'Elizabethtown' celebrates 'the goodness in people.'

BY: Interview by Michael Kress

 
In movies such as "Jerry Maguire," "Almost Famous," and "Say Anything," Cameron Crowe explored the decisions and events that define a person's character-often mining his own life for material, and always doing so with an unbeatable soundtrack. His newest film, "Elizabethtown," is no exception. It is based partly on his own reaction to the death of his father, and includes music from Tom Petty, Elton John, and Nancy Wilson (Crowe's wife). In the film, industrial designer Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), already despondent over a professional failure, copes with the sudden death of his father. En route to his father's memorial in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, he meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a flight attendant who helps him put his life back on track.

Crowe spoke with Beliefnet about his undying optimism, the role of Catholicism in his life, and the spirituality of music.

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, you described yourself as a "warrior for optimism."

On my better days.

That's a wonderful phrase. Can you expand on it and tell me what you meant by it?

I think it's an often cynical world and there's a fascination with darkness in a lot of media. And "Elizabethtown"-and in varying degrees other stuff that I've done-is about the hero that finds a way in modern life to fight for hope and belief in the best that's in all of us. And I think that's a real hero. Elizabethtown certainly is a movie with positivity at its core. Some people go, "How realistic is that?" Well, there are a million movies that aren't about that, and this one is.

These days, it seems like we're in need of a good shot of optimism.

Or at least a sense of community. We all have a pretty deep family root system that we rarely take advantage of or feel the presence of except in times of strife. The one thing that I found from screening the movie is that people afterwards, and this is a little bit true of "Jerry Maguire" too, people afterwards say, "You know what? I feel a little bit inspired about being alive right now. And you know what? I'm going to cancel this trip I had going this weekend and I'm going to go visit my mom, or I'm going to go call my dad." It's cool when a movie affects people in that way. It runs a little deeper than, "Yeah, it was cute. Where are we having dinner?" [laughs]

"Elizabethtown" also deals with a difficult topic. To what extent was it emotionally difficult to make a film that draws on your experience losing your father?

What's funny was my dad was a real charming guy, and a real upbeat guy. And I did lose him a number of years ago.

Cameron Crowe on his father's death

What he would have really loved is that I finally wrote about the experience of losing this person that was so close to us all, but it's a comedy. And it makes you feel happy to be alive, and it actually begins with that loss and ends with a beginning-the beginning being a real sense of, "Boy, here's what it's like to claim all the opportunity that's available to you as a human being in the world, alive right now." And he would have loved that you laughed a little bit and cried a little bit and it felt like real life.

Did you learn anything about your father through exploring those themes?

I learned a lot. He was a letter writer. In the movie, one of the things said about the character based on him is, "Mitch wrote letters. Never once sent an email." And I loved the idea that this guy, who was also my dad, left behind so many written documents, in the guise of helping friends and family, that were revealing about who he was. And all of his friends would later show up and give me these letters to read, and I learned so much about who he was as a guy. And that happened while we were making the movie.

Seems like that's something the next generation won't have nearly as much, given that email and phone are the way to go these days.

Yeah. But write a letter from time to time. Put something down that might last. That would be what I would tell my kids.

Do you do that for your kids?

I do. They've grown up appreciating the written word, which is great. The written word, in a book.

Your movies often focus on key transitional moments and major life decisions. Would you call that a spiritual sensibility?

Well, in a natural, non-soapbox way, yeah. I like celebrating the humanity of people, and the foibles and positivity and the ups and downs of life, because the whole package is what makes life worth living. And I like showing characters that are basically decent, though they may not always act that way. Because for better or worse sometimes, I tend to believe in the best in people.

"You're really just on a journey to do the best you can."
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