Velvet Goldmine (1998)

Velvet Goldmine (1998) – There’s been a number of odd scenes that have sprung up around musical styles. Punk is my favorite, but the 70s also saw the rise of glam rock. Now I never could get into the whole elaborate makeup, expertly coiffed hairstyles, and outlandish outfits (hell, I can barely be bothered to put on a tee shirt and jeans in the morning) but the music that came out of that era is pretty great: Slade, T. Rex, Gary Glitter (though he is an awful human being), and of course David Bowie. Velvet Goldmine is a 1998 film by Todd Haynes that attempts to encapsulate the genre. Much like Haynes’s Bob Dylan film I’m Not There, the film avoids being a straightforward recreation of actual events but a more a kind of remixed representation of the mood and feel of the time (with plenty of stuff based on actual events).

After an odd prologue narrated by janet McTeer involving UFOs and Oscar Wilde, the film moves on to the story of Brian Slade. Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a gigantic glam rock pop idol (based loosely on Bowie). He’s created the persona and band of Maxwell Demon and the Venus in Furs (like Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars). In 1974, Slade is seemingly assassinated on stage but it is quickly revealed to be a hoax. The film actually borrows the narrative structure of Citizen Kane: a journalist named Arthur Stewart (Christian Bale) in 1984 tries to definitively find out what happened to Brian Slade after he dropped off the radar. As a young gay man in the 70s, Arthur had followed the glam rock scene closely and even been a part of it towards the end. He talks to Slade’s original manager (Michael Feast), Slade’s former wife (Toni Collette), and former collaborator Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor) who is kind of an amalgamation of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. Arthur hears about Slade’s rise to fame, his volatile relationship with Wild, and the strange circumstances surrounding his fictitious assassination and its connection to a new pop star.

After failing at the box office, Velvet Goldmine went on to become something of a cult classic. The tone of the film takes some getting into. After an intriguing beginning (aliens! Oscar Wilde! Faked pop star assassination!) the film started to drag for a little bit but I got back into it after a little while. The look of the film is exquisite. Costume designer Sandy Powell was nominated for an Oscar and won a BAFTA for her work, key to the visual success of the film. The soundtrack is simply divine (I will be buying it) with artists like Thom Yorke and Thurston Moore contributing to recreating the sound of 1970s glam rock. The film has kind of a hypnotic feel to it after a while. I wouldn’t rank it in the pantheon of great cinema (I’ve never been hugely taken with Haynes’s film, though I tend to kind of like them) but it’s absorbing and a must for any fans of the musical genre it pays loving tribute to. If you feel up to it, check it out.

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