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Velvet Goldmine
USA 1998
Directed by Todd Haynes
Running time 124 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


As a depiction of the glam rock era Velvet Goldmine is a treat. The wardrobe and art direction are fabulous and the music, a combination of purpose-written songs (by Carter Burwell, the Coen’s composer of choice, of all people) and hits of the era from T Rex, Roxy Music, Lou Reed and Brian Eno amongst others, is spot-on. As a drama the film is less successful, playing like a series of music clips embedded in a broadly sketched portrait of the times. This is largely because, unlike the comparable classic depiction of the 1960s, Performance there is simply too much going on and the characters don’t get a chance to emerge beyond the two-dimensional.

The framing time period is 1984. Christian Bale plays melancholy reporter Arthur Stuart who is doing a "where is he now?" story on a former glam rock star, Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys-Meyer) who  ten years ago faked the onstage murder of his alter ego, Maxwell Demon, thus effectively ushering in the "Death of Glitter". Arthur was a teen then who idolized Slade and the assignment means for him a trip down memory lane and a review of his own troubled youth with particular emphasis on the androgyny and bi-sexuality that were hallmark characteristics of the time.

Clearly the story is loosely based on David Bowie and his Ziggy Stardust character whilst Slade’s relationship with Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor) is an extension of Bowie’s with Iggy Pop. McGregor, in a performance which is strikingly different from his usual “cool” screen style, does a first-class Iggy Pop impression and he is easily the best thing about the film. Bale with a convincing English accent is effective in both time periods (although he doesn’t look good in glitter make-up) but Slade never is more than a pin-up and Rhys-Meyer really has nothing to do but strike poses. Pretty much the same goes for Toni Collette as Slade’s ex-wife (the interview scene with her being lifted from Citizen Kane, a film from which Haynes has borrowed liberally) and her characteristic pouting gets tiresome. The fact that the narrative gets a little fuzzy toward the end with Arthur seeming to move into fantasyland and Slade apparently having reinvented himself as Tommy Stone but whose music we never hear, doesn’t help.

If you have a fondness for the excesses of the glam rock era Velvet Goldmine is well-worth checking out. If not, there’s probably not a whole lot here that's going to sustain your interest.

 

 

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