Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Taking root

I didn’t want to write a story that could only happen in a huge city that everyone knows. What about the people in between? What about the people in Elizabethtown, Ky.?” asks director Cameron Crowe as he prepares to reminisce about Elizabethtown – a tale of life, loss and discovering our roots in modern America that opens Friday.

“Let us celebrate a part of the country that does not get a lot of movies made about it,” Crowe says.

Crowe, who received an Academy Award in 2000 for his original screenplay for Almost Famous, set out to make a movie about personal experience. Just as Famous pays homage to Crowe’s mother, Elizabethtown pays homage to his father’s passing.

“A movie that could blend tears and laughter – that was (my father’s) favorite combo,” Crowe says. And that’s exactly the recipe used in Elizabethtown.

Orlando Bloom plays Drew Baylor, a successful young entrepreneur who has to deal with striking blows of death and defeat. On his way to his father’s hometown in Kentucky, he meets Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst), a delightful and charming flight attendant who gives him the inspiration to take a musical road trip to reconnect to his family roots. Susan Sarandon gives a memorable performance as Drew’s urbane mother, Hollie Baylor.

“I always liked the idea of telling a story populated with failure and fiasco, but in the middle of it is a person who exists only for love,” Crowe says. “I often write about these characters because they’re heroes to me – they breathe in failure and spit it back out and move on.”

Crowe suggested that Bloom consider classic movies centering on relationships to prepare for his role in Elizabethtown, so Bloom spent hours studying films like Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.

“Movies like that aren’t about the visual effects and explosions – they’re human stories about family, about life, about death,” Bloom says. Along with the warrior weapons and the pirate ships from Pirates of the Caribbean, Bloom lost his British accent to play an American for the first time in Elizabethtown.

All-American Dunst found it easy to slide into Crowe’s whimsical words.

“It was one of the best characters that I’ve ever read for a woman my age,” Dunst says of portraying Claire. “She’s not self-deprecating at all. In fact, she’s very positive all the time.”

The words came to Crowe just as he was going through his own journey of trying to reconcile his strange, yet familiar feelings toward distant relatives.

In the summer of 2002, shortly after the release of Vanilla Sky, Crowe was on the road with his wife, Nancy Wilson, who was touring with the rock band Heart. The return to Kentucky’s “electric blue hillsides” where his father’s funeral was held in 1989 was the initial inspiration Crowe needed for the film.

“Orlando is playing a guy who is a stranger in a strange land, but the strange land is actually the epicenter of his family roots,” Crowe says. “That’s what I felt like when I was back in Kentucky.”

Further inspiration came in the form of music.

“I have a notebook that’s packed with songs that I want,” Crowe says. “At a certain point, the notebook of songs becomes twice as big as the script – I’ll have 50 songs for one scene. But the best part of the job is when you get into the editing room, you bust out the iTunes and you find out that the one that you thought of in the dark quiet of the night is right.”

Music also played a significant role in Crowe’s on-site directing. Before the start of a scene, Crowe played a specific song that he felt evoked the right emotion for that particular moment in the film. Bloom and Dunst were open to this melodious technique.

“Kirsten and Orlando love music and soak it up,” Crowe says. “They came packing iPods filled with great stuff.”

“He plays a lot of music on set, which makes sense because that is the way he writes,” Bloom says. “He’s got music in his head – there’s a rhythm to it all.”

The music used in Elizabethtown is dubbed “The Great American Radio Station,” with contributions from Tom Petty, Elton John, Ryan Adams and Kentucky natives My Morning Jacket.

“I hope at some point all of the movies that I have been able to do fit together as some kind of common portrait of what it was to be alive right now,” Crowe says.

This common portrait is illustrated by Crowe with distinct wit, unpretentious charm and sincere passion. Accompanied with a heartfelt soundtrack for the heartlands, Elizabethtown takes a journey of tears and laughs and asks the audience along for the ride.

“The career problems (Drew’s) facing at the beginning of Elizabethtown are not real problems, at least not worth the life-and-death value we tend to assign most daily disappointments,” Crowe says. “We assume that somewhere down the line, we’ll be able to know our parents as adults, as equals. Drew finally comes to know his father, and himself, on that long-delayed get-together, even though one of them is in an urn. It’s never too late.”4

Medill sophomore Oscar Melendrez is a PLAY writer. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Taking root