Glam rock revived in Cannes entry "Velvet Goldmine"

Lee Yanowitch


CANNES, France, May 22 (Reuters) - Controversial U.S. director Todd Haynes stepped on to the Cannes Festival battlefield on Friday with his latest opus "Velvet Goldmine," a vivid and nostalgic tribute to the glam rock era in 1970s London.

The film's brilliant rendering of the atmosphere of those years of excess and decadence has put Haynes among the front-runners for the Golden Palm, the festival top prize to be awarded on Sunday.

With his tale of the audacity and hedonism that characterised the heyday of stars like David Bowie, Bryan Ferry and Marc Bolan, Haynes is likely to run into more trouble from America's religious right which has attacked some of his earlier films over their explicit and shocking content.

Scenes of sex, cocaine-sniffing and debauchery alternate with rock concerts recreated with uncanny accuracy, showing hysterical fans, dramatic lighting and violent on-stage antics as actors perform original songs.

The characters wear wild outfits and glittery make-up, basking in the wild narcissism and drug craze that glam rock glorified and embodied.

" I was never interested in telling any real stories. In the glam rock era people created fiction about themselves at a time when fiction was elevated way above facts," Haynes told a press conference after his film was screened.

"It's really more about the blurring of boundaries, and what interested people was that you could change, unlike in the 1980s when we were all wrapped up in a cocoon and content. That's why I'm nostalgic about the period -- because it was an incredibly courageous time," Haynes said.

"Velvet Goldmine" is the story of Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a glam rock star who spirals to fame, shaking up the lives of teenage fans who, following in his footsteps, wear garish make-up and begin to experiment with bi-sexuality.

It explores Slade's rise, his marriage to Mandy (Toni Collette of "Muriel") and his homosexual affair with Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor), a star of America's rock scene whose character is loosely based on Iggy Pop but bears a striking resemblance to Kurt Cobain, the late leader of Nirvana.

McGregor is perfectly brilliant as the charismatic and heroine-addicted Wild, delivering concert performances worthy of the best rock idols.

The film also follows Slade's sudden fall from stardom when he fakes his own assassination on-stage, destroying his image and disillusioning fans who had idolised him.

The story is seen through the eyes of Arthur (Christian Bale), a young British journalist in New York who is sent to find Slade and tell his life story 10 years after his abrupt and dramatic undoing.

As Arthur carries out his investigation, memories resurface of his own infatuation with Slade and Wild and how it transformed his life.

"I certainly haven't lived through a time when music changed people's lives as it did then," Bale said.

In the end, Slade remains a mystery, reappearing only in flashbacks, as in Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane."

Most of the actors were either not yet born or still in nappies when glam rock hit the charts, but they interpreted it through films and recordings, or by relying on their own experiences.

"When I started the film, I had no recollection of the period because I was born in 1977. The film is about a freshness and a spring, because the 1970s was a liberal time. What I do have is a recollection of the 1990s which is also a liberal time because we've come through a depression and we feel fresh and young again," Rhys Meyers said.

Michael Stipe, the lead singer of the group R.E.M. who owns two film companies, was the film's executive producer and said he jumped at the chance to work on a subject so "close to my heart."

"Glam rock is an era that has largely been overlooked, but for musicians it has had a great deal of impact and inspiration. When I came into adolescence, the sex content of glam rock was like a shining light. There was an element to it that just drew you in," he said.