Love in a time without commitment

CAMERON Crowe was all too pleased for the interruption, and settled down to answer a few questions.

''Any excuse not to write,'' he said.

The irony was not lost. Crowe has been earning a living as a writer since he was 16 when he worked for Rolling Stone magazine covering the music scene in California in the '70s. Since then, he has enjoyed success as a journalist, written one book and four screenplays, and directed two films.

From touring with Led Zeppelin to going undercover as a student to research his book/screenplay Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Crowe has had his finger on the pulse of popular culture.

And it shows in the movie Singles where Crowe was writer/director in an exploration of love in the '90s using the cutting edge Seattle music scene as a backdrop. Little did Crowe imagine the guitar-driven alternative music dubbed ''grunge'', which dominates the film, would be such a success.

The soundtrack bounded to the top of the char ts even before the film was released.

Music aside, Singles offers an in-depth look at twentysomethings' dating and mating rituals in an age when commitment is a dirty word.

''It's meant to be an upbeat look at love - as opposed to the other stories, easily found on your video shelves, of how desperate and awful it is to be single . . . I wanted to make a hero out of someone who puts themself on the line.

''I wanted to tell a story where the people found, at least for a moment, that they made a connection. Probably, if the movie had been five minutes longer, you would have seen Matt and Bridget's characters fighting again,'' he said.

Crowe is referring to Matt Dillon and Bridget Fonda, who play two of the central characters, Cliff and Janet.

Cliff, a musician, has a number of day jobs in order to keep his band, Citizen Dick, going. Janet works as a waitress at a cafe to save money for architecture school. Janet adores Cliff, who is too wrapped up in his floundering career to notice.

In contrast there is Steve (Campbell Scott) and Linda (Kyra Sedgwick). They meet across a crowded grunge concert floor and eventually fall in love.

But their relationship is fraught with doubts.

No one is immune, is Crowe's message. The eternal optimist, he sticks to the view love conquers all.

''I believe in love,'' he said.

The earnest dialogue, brushed with wit, is Crowe at his best. As he did with Fast Times, Crowe captures the repartee of young people, as well as the parameters by which they live.

But his life could not be further from that of his on-screen love-lorn characters. At 35, he is happily married to Heart singer/guitarist Nancy Wilson and looking forward to the day he might become a father.

As with Fast Times, when he posed as a student, Crowe is obsessed with getting the facts straight. He listens to people and records conversations for reference.

Some things have changed since Crowe played the field.

''Obviously, there is an extra dose of paranoia [due to AIDS], but I am amazed at the resiliency of people,'' he said.

''You can't help but applaud the guy who puts himself out there one more time, when he usually gets slapped down. Especially now, it is easy to stay home all the time considering the minefields out there. That's another reason I wanted the movie to be upbeat. I wanted to write about a success story even in awful times.'' Crowe's faithfulness to reality spills over into the film as an obsession for minutiae.

''I wanted the movie to be about the accessories, all the little details that are supporting characters in relationships. It was a big, big theme with the cinematographer and me. I am endlessly fascinated with the details. That is the most fun part of making a movie,'' he said.

During Linda and Steve's first date, Linda reaches over to open Steve's car door. The camera zooms in on Linda's hand as she pulls up the button. The camera cuts to Steve's face which reveals his astonishment and pleasure at her courtesy.

These small, meaningful moments Crowe faithfully conveys give the movie its depth.

In fact, it had so much depth and covered so much of the lives of his characters he ended up with a three-hour film.

ON TO the editing room floor went an affair between Janet and her doctor, a plastic surgeon she sought out to enlarge her breasts in an attempt to win over Cliff. Cut out was Cliff losing his band and selling solo cassettes on street corners. Gone was much of Steve's anger over his break-up with Linda, not to mention various ''experimental'' scenes.

Trimming was a difficult task. In particular, Crowe was attached to Janet's story.

''The affair was very uncomfortable to watch, it was very realistic. The movie took you down a very dark road that it couldn't continue on. I couldn't tell her whole story,'' he said.

Crowe has put some of the scenes back for video release.

''The stuff that worked was the most truthful stuff, the talk about relationships,'' he said.

Relationships are something he will continue to focus on. He concedes his next script is about people his own age.

''Now, I'm writing about commitment,'' he said.

The prospect of becoming a father has influenced him a lot. For someone nicknamed ''The Kid'' during his early Rolling Stone days, it is a big step.

''You can't be a kid forever. It's a wonderful thing to kiss that part of your growing up goodbye,'' he said.