For all of Velvet Goldmine¡¯s failings, I can't, in all honesty,
say that I disliked the movie. It's a glittering spectacle that draws you
in with carefully calculated measures of sensory overload and excess upon
excess upon excess -- just like the real Ziggy Stardust did two decades
Velvet Goldmine is to the glam movement what the movie Sid
and Nancy was to punk. Filmmaker Todd Haynes avoids the criticisms
that were aimed at Sid & Nancy for taking too many liberties
with the truth, by taking so many that, like Oliver North's JFK, we
understand the movie is a complete fabrication, albeit one that borrows
heavily, at convenient moments, from the facts.
At its most basic, Velvet Goldmine is a classic mystery.
Reporter Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) is given the assignment of
unearthing the whereabouts of Bowie-esque singer Brian Slade (Jonathan
Rhys-Myers). Slade, whose career plummeted after he was caught faking his
own assassination on-stage, has disappeared from public view. Like any
good Sam Spade, reporter Stuart only becomes interested in the
investigation about the time he is called off the case.
Meyers makes for a decent glam star, although his physique is a tad
too muscular and his movements a bit too stilted for the part. The star
that shines more brightly is Ewan McGregor as the Iggy Pop-esque nihilist Curt
Wild (who for the record looks, unintentionally or not, more like Kurt
Cobain than Iggy). Also of merit is Toni Colette's performance as the
Angela Bowie pastiche Mandy Slade.
As you've probably noticed, nearly every character in Velvet
Goldmine is a facsimile of a real human blueprint. Haynes, however,
likes to mix and match. For example, we see an Andy Warhol clone hanging
with a pastiche based on David Johansen (of New York Dolls fame)
instead of a member of the Velvet Underground, although in real life the
Velvets were his prot¨¦g¨¦s and the Dolls were his rivals. [See Interview with Sylvian
Sylvain]. Later, wife Mandy discovers husband Brian Slade in bed with
Curt Wild, hence, the Curt Wild/Iggy Pop character has now morphed into a
Curt Wild/Mick Jagger creation. (In reality, Angela Bowie discovered
husband David in the sack with Mick Jagger, according to legend.) When a
look-a-like appears, she is singing the New York Dolls classic
"Personality Crisis" instead of one of her own tunes. And when some Dolls
clones appear -- complete with a vocalist donning David Jo's trademark top
hat and tails and a spitting image of Johnny Thunders on guitar --
they play cabaret music instead of the gut-splitting rock for which they
were known. The list goes on....
Although this approach makes for some interesting effects, it is a bit
disconcerting for the viewer and probably more so for the celebrities who
have had their histories mutated into these convoluted fantasies. Imagine
seeing a picture from your wedding or high school prom, and instead of
your wife or girlfriend, the donut girl from down the block appears next
to you in the shot. I think you get the idea...
Furthermore, as with many mysteries, the end of Velvet Goldmine
is somewhat dissatisfying. The pieces never really fit together, and to be
honest, I'm still not sure if I understand what happened to Slade. He
appears to have grown a blond pompadour and landed a part on a network
variety show, but I wouldn't bank on it.
So what is there to like about Velvet Goldmine? Well, for
starters, it captures an era in pop music that has gone fairly
undocumented. And it does so in a way which proves that Haynes knows and
understands his material. As with the best-made music videos, the film is
highly entertaining and pleasantly sophisticated in its treatment of its
subjects. References to Oscar Wilde are a bit overwrought but the
ambitious effort, in and of itself, is noteworthy.
And the music, some of which is original, is surprisingly good. I found
myself liking, against my better judgment, some of the recreations of the
glam rock genre that boomed out from the Dolby sound system. Moreover, the
choices of classic non-original music -- including "Satellite of Love" by
and the aforementioned Doll's tune -- fit in nicely with the mood and the
timing of the movie.
I guess it all depends on what your expectations are. The promos for
Velvet Goldmine tell you to "expect the unexpected" and to a
certain extent perhaps you should. There is a whole lotta blatant
homosexuality going on, and I'm sure the effect will be shocking for many.
Whether the movie is thought-provoking, however, is another issue. But
like a good drug, Velvet Goldmine gives you the high you want for a
limited period of time. And the movie does so without the residual
hangover of a controlled substance. That's worth the price of a ticket,