Review: Velvet Goldmine (1998)


Directed by: Todd Haynes | 124 minutes | drama, music | Actors: Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christian Bale, Toni Collette, Eddie Izzard, Emily Woof, Michael Feast, Janet McTeer, Mairead McKinley, Luke Morgan Oliver, Osheen Jones, Micko Westmoreland, Damian Suchet, Don Fellows, Ganiat Kasumu, Ray Shell, Alastair Cumming,

Jim Whelan, Sylvia Grant, Tim Hans, Ryan Pope, Callum Hamilton, Matthew Glamor, Daniel Adams, Joe Beattie, Sarah Cawood, David Hoyle, Winston Austin, Justin Salinger, Brian Molko, Antony Langdon, Xavior, Steve Hewitt, Guy Leverton, Vinney Reck, Keith-Lee Castle, Alan Fordham, Jono McGrath, Perry Clayton, Donna Matthews, Ritz, Stefan Olsdal

‘Glam’ may well have disappeared from the music scene these days – except for a few comical aberrations like ‘The Darkness’ and ‘Scissor Sisters’ – in the early 1970s it was the dolled up, glittery guys who gave a whole new meaning to the ‘free love’ of the hippie culture. Bisexuality, androgyny, makeup, glamor and an otherworldly alter-ego were all included and found their ultimate embodiment in David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.” Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was modeled after this Ziggy Stardust in “Velvet Goldmine,” but David Bowie said his songs shouldn’t be used and the film is certainly not a biopic.

Director Todd Haynes (who co-wrote the film with James Lyons) had already creatively portrayed male love before making “Velvet Goldmine,” but in this film he indulges in a postmodern and pretentious script. The frequent references to ‘actual’ pop history (some examples: the title of the film refers to a B-side of David Bowie, Brian’s last name ‘Slade’ refers to a glam band and his alter ego ‘Maxwell Demon’ takes his name from Brian Eno’s first tape), the many quotes from the work of Oscar Wilde (who according to the film was a glam star avant la lettre) and a narrative structure based on ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941) make ‘Velvet Goldmine’ a somewhat full film, but that pretentious fits perfectly with the era that the film wants to depict. And the way this is portrayed is also as swirling, glittering and glamorous as you can imagine.

Never before have Ewan McGregor (as Iggy Pop-esque rock and roll junkie Curt Wild, Brian Slade’s love) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers look so attractive. Rhys Meyers’s ever-empty gaze is now entirely suited to the role he is playing, and suddenly becomes seductive, innocent and even desperate. Because just like Ziggy Stardust, Maxwell Demon was made to perish. However, it is not (as was the case with Jim Morrison, for example) the person who dies, but the “stage persona”: Brian Slade “fakes” his own death. Ten years after that event, journalist Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) is sent to find out what happened to Brian. Arthur was a big fan of Brian as a confused teenager, but he wants to forget this past, as his parents rejected him for his gay feelings. Drama at its best, when it is precisely this man who has to interview people like Brian Slade’s old manager and his ex-wife (a varied, well-developed role of Toni Collette). Drama and suspense may be present in “Velvet Goldmine”, but they are subordinate to the spectacular outward and musical display.

With “Velvet Goldmine” you don’t just feast your eyes, your ears have just as much fun: from Lou Reed’s adorable “Satellite of Love” to the Stooges “T.V. Eye ‘and from Thom Yorke who sings Brian Ferry’s’ Bitter-Sweet’ on the soundtrack to Brian Molko who himself appears in the film as a glittering ‘Flaming Creatures’ singer and together with his band (although bassist Stefan Olsdal is part of a other band) T-Rex’s “20th Century Boy” covers. “Velvet Goldmine” is delicious over-the-top entertainment with a beautiful black edge.

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