on July 28, 2005
An oddball film that chronicles the rise and fall of an early 1970s glam rock star, Velvet Goldmine almost defies categorization. While separating fiction from fact can be tricky, the story is based pretty much on the life of David Bowie; some details have been tweaked for dramatic effect, but there's surprisingly little deviation from just about any biography that's ever been written about him. The non-linear narrative takes the viewer into the glittery world of one Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) and the entourage surrounding him. Slade had created an alter-ego for himself called Maxwell Demon (as Bowie created Ziggy Stardust), and the character had almost come to eclipse Slade himself. After an on-stage stunt literally backfires, Slade's fans revolted against him, and the singer vanished into drugs and obscurity.
His story is conveyed in flashbacks when, in 1984, journalist Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) is assigned to write a tenth anniversary retrospective on Slade and perhaps uncover the singer's ultimate fate. Arthur interviews Slade's first manager, Cecil (Michael Feast) and then his bitter ex-wife, Mandy (Toni Collette), and from them pieces together Slade's early background as a musician, including the players who proved crucial to his career: maverick second manager Jerry Devine (Eddie Izzard), unstable proto-punk rocker Kurt Wild (Ewan McGregor), and deceptively shy wardrobe mistress Shannon (Emily Woof). Arthur of course is no mere bystander to all these events; the unfolding story reveals that he was a huge fan of Slade, turning to music as an escape during his troubled adolescence. In digging up Slade's past, he also unleashes a lot of his own demons, and the story is just as much Arthur's as Brian's.
Although the film stands as a loving homage to glitter, it also doesn't hesitate to reveal that the core of the phenomenon was essentially empty. Somehow, Velvet Goldmine manages to both celebrate and condemn glam rock: Slade starts his career as a naive singer-songwriter with some interesting and unusual ideas, but once Devine's corporate machine takes over, Slade's creativity is stifled to the point where he's a prisoner of his own artifice. Ultimately, the pre-fabricated exterior is all that's left of him.
Teasing out the narrative thread is no easy feat. Velvet Goldmine is liberally draped in yards of trappings: musical interludes, documentary sequences, images that often go unexplained and don't add much; there's characters, scenes, and plot threads that serve no purpose other than window dressing. Some of this proves effective (a take on early music video is a real hoot), but much of the excess could've been trimmed away in the interests of tightening the story. While Arthur's investigation into the Slade mystery is handled well, other plot elements needed more attention.
Bowiephiles will recognize every phase of their idol's early career: the dapper mod, the curly-haired hippie, the cross-dressed singer-songwriter, the flamboyant glam rocker (there's even a very fun poke at Serious Moonlight-era Bowie that cleverly ties into the main plot). The characters mirror exactly those in Bowie's orbit, but viewers who don't know the characters and don't get the jokes/ references are apt to find themselves baffled, not to mention put off by the film's excesses.
Anyone willing to sift through the spangles and feathers, however, will be rewarded with some terrific acting. Ewan McGregor is mostly wasted as the unstable Kurt Wild--he has a couple of knockout performance sequences, but Wild otherwise spends most of his scenes drugged out and exploding in angry diatribes; although McGregor gets top billing, Wild is really a supporting player. Izzard is a lot of fun as the oily Devine; Woof handles Shannon's transformation from innocent schoolgirl to shrewd operator with aplomb; Feast is terrifically droll in his work as the ignominiously discarded Cecil. Bale is utterly fearless as Arthur: he has to put across a lot of weakness and shyness and self-doubt, as well as Arthur's sexual awakening. Many actors wouldn't have touched this character with the proverbial ten-foot pole, but Bale handles the material--including one humiliating moment in Arthur's life--without the slightest hint of self-consciousness. Toni Colette is a marvel, taking her character from naive party girl to cynical rock wife to jaded, washed-up ex--she's funny and subtle and outrageous, suggesting a deep and genuine love for Brian, pain and betrayal when he essentially dumps her for Kurt, and finally weary bitterness that the world at large has forgotten her. Of all the characters, Mandy seems to have truly loved the wild circus of glam rock, and she longs for the past with a touching sense of nostalgia.
As terrific as all these performances are, the film belongs to Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, whose turn as Bowie is nothing short of riveting. A kind of raw sexual energy seems to pour out of him; he's magnetic, and much like Bowie himself, it's impossible to take your eyes off him. The physical resemblance is particularly uncanny, and Rhys-Meyers gets all the little details down perfectly: the expressions, the posture, the body language. Like Bale, he tackles the role head-on, and it's a testament to his skill that he conveys such depth of emotion through layers of costume, wig, and makeup. Even his reedy voice evokes the young Bowie, and yes, that's him singing in four different numbers (two of them were left off the movie's soundtrack CD). This role, more than any of his others, brings home the depth and extent of JRM's talent. Everyone in the film is stellar, but only Rhys-Meyers seems touched with genuine prodigy. Anyone who admires him as an actor shouldn't miss him here.
Velvet Goldmine's other great strength is its music, which consists of classic tunes from the era, as well as songs specifically written for the film. The overall effect is of a long-lost Bowie album, and it's a pity that two or three show-stoppers were left off the soundtrack. Music is of course inextricably linked to story in this type of film, used to illuminate character and propel the narrative. A couple of set pieces don't work, but mostly the music is wonderful, melding perfectly to the visual images and adding depth to each scene.
Velvet Goldmine plainly isn't a movie for everyone, and almost certainly some would find it unwatchable; mileage will vary greatly depending on one's tolerance for gay characters, men in drag, and a heightened sense of camp. There's also a *lot* of sex (gay, straight, group, and solo) and full frontal nudity (male and female)--the film is rated R for a very good reason. Velvet Goldmine can probably be summed up as a diamond in the rough--the viewer may need to do some chipping, but the glittering facets that are revealed make the effort worthwhile.
on July 30, 2003
I *really* wish this film would materialize into a human so I could have sex with it. If you haven't seen the film and are getting put off by the nasty reviews here, please, for your sake, ignore them. They didn't get it. It was meant to be a campy, fun, very indulgent piece of slash fan fiction. Nothing more.
I'll be honest, it's not for everyone. If the idea of extremely sexy and gorgeous boys in makeup and tight pants making out appeals to you, especially if you're obsessed with glam rock, and an extra bonus if you're a rabid Placebo fan (the Placeboys are in it, and Brian looks tastier than I've ever seen him, which is saying something), buy this movie immidiately. You will not regret it, I swear.
However, if you're homophobic, or you think this was supposed to be a bio of Magic Pants himself, or you want to watch a brilliantly written indie film like Trainspotting or something, you're going to be pissed off. I won't lie to you. This movie was made for girls who are into the whole slash fan fiction scene and gay boys only. If you're a fan of Hedwig, Labyrinth and Rocky Horror, you're going to be obsessed with this film.
And the soundtrack kicks f*cking @ss, btw.
Oh yeah, and Ewan McGregor's naked.
Now go see it.
on November 6, 1999
Many of this film's critics make the mistake of taking it too literally - though based on Bowie's life, it's not intended to be accurate or biographical. It is a glam fantasy, both beautiful and painful at the same time. The story is very complex, but every bit of it is worthwhile, so if you didn't "get it" the first time around, try watching it again! I have seen Velvet Goldmine many times, and every time there is something new that I notice, or something else to think about. Todd Haynes' script and direction and pure genius, and that's all there is to it!
I can not find fault with a single of the actors - each of the stars gives a incredible performance. Toni Collette, Christian Bale, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Ewan McGregor give depth and emotion to characters, so that even at their harshest or most brutal moments, one can't help but feel for them. Micko Westmoreland (aka The Bowling Green) is a standout as Jack Fairy, who is glamour personified. There is wonderful chemistry between the male leads, who truly bring to life the movie's gay romance. Their on-screen kiss is more passionate and beautiful than any I have ever seen on film, gay or straight.
But before you start taking the movie too seriously, it's also great fun! You can analyze it, which is worthwile, or you can pop it in for a night of fluff and glamour. Everything is visually exciting... feathers, sequins, spaceships, and glitter everwhere. Not to mention the music! Perhaps the most valuable thing I gained from this movie was an introduction to a genre of music I knew nothing about. How did I survive for so long without Roxy Music?
I HIGHLY recommend this movie!
"Once upon a time, not so long ago, the children of the revolution looked up into the sky. And there, hovering amid a boulevard of stars, was a vision of the future as strange and dazzling as any dream. What they saw that night no one can ever say. But what they heard can still be heard today."
The Glam Rock movement was as much about shocking as it was anything else. In its way it took itself more seriously than any popular art form. The artists seemed to lie to themselves and each other with a pretense that nothing mattered, when the reality was that EVERYTHING mattered too much. The affected hairstyles, glitter, platform shoes, outrageous clothing, faux-bisexuality combined belied its phony "I don't care" attitude.
Todd Hayne's captures all of this brilliantly in Velvet Goldmine. He is ably aided by a cast who give startlingly nuanced performances and though each succeeds in bringing off the poseur hard-edge to their performances each character is afforded opportunity to also reveal a fragility that is the heart of their performance. Despite all the shock and "glam" we are watching people who are no more than children, unguided trying to make their way in a world technology, morals, where civilization itself was changing faster than anyone could keep up with. The center of the movie seems to be the observation of watching innocence shattered and failed attempts to recapture it and understand the confusion surrounding it.
Haynes understands music as well - or better - than any currently working director and "Goldmine" more than any of his other films almost feels as though it is following a symphonic form, repeating its motifs and driving home its confused, distraught yet ultimately hopeful message through its innocence. Visually as well as aurally - and every other way - Haynes scrupulous attention to detail pays off with a rewarding film that won't be to all likings, but is very nearly brilliant in every way.
The plot/storyline is often blurred and difficult to follow and once you can accept that this must have been an intentional element, said difficulty almost becomes the point where the actual story isn't as strong as the observation the film seems to be making.
The trio of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Ewan McGregor, and Toni Collete are nothing short of remarkable in capturing the jumbled, mass of confusion their characters are. Each tortured in their own way, each attempting to "live out loud" and each failing miserably. Likewise, Christian Bale is the perfect picture of confused dysfunction, searching and living in a world where the lines between dreaming and reality are further and further blurred to the point where it's impossible to tell the separation - if there is one - between the two. Amazing performances all the way around.
on June 18, 2001
The 70s glam rock movement in the UK hearalded an openly gay glitter lifestyle that rocked staid Brits. Todd Haynes ode to the era of glam is not a biopic of David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Instead, its the fictional story of Brian Slade (Johnathan Rhys-Meyers) and Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor) who prance and vamp through hoards of groupies, hangers on, and entourages of press leaving devistation everywhere. Pretentious with attitude and posing de regeur for the era, these characters wallow in their shallowness. Visual kudos for great eyemakeup for men and spandex for all. Sandy Powells outstanding designs were nominated for an Oscar for costumes. Ewan McGregor's randy performance au natural singing "T.V. Eye" is hot and one could easily see him turning from acting to a singing career. Toni Collette, so heartwarming in Muriel's Wedding, is a sour, left in the dust wife, her ambition and desire for the limelight went only as far as her husband's need for a convenient beard. In the role of the singer's agent, Eddie Izzard, the fabulous executive transvestite comedian plays a straight in the film. This ode to sex, drugs, and platform shoes has several outstanding performances including Christian Bale as the reporter who investigates the WEHT faded rocker. Goldmine is at times wistful yet never goes overboard. It is believeable in its outlandish camp. The video or DVD is worth owning. I have both and the PAL-video special edition which contains minimal differences from the US and British released theatrical versions. Reminder: to be played at maximum volume.
on July 27, 2000
I didn't watch the movie with any preconceived notions about Ziggy Stardust, Iggy Pop, or any of the others, and I think that helped. The movie is like a cross between Citizen Kane and Lisztomania, if you can imagine that. My hormones insisted I rent this movie, and my hormones were not disappointed. Such beautiful, beautiful boys!
Although the story focuses upon the life of Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys-Myers), I was more interested in Curt Wilde (Ewan McGregor). I think anyone whose career is jumpstarted by electroshock treatment deserves more attention paid to them. What I want to know is the connection between Oscar Wilde and Curt? Although Curt is American, he does eventually receive Oscar's space brooch. What does this mean? And they have the same last names, so does that mean they are related? Who knows? The plot isn't exactly easy to follow.
Despite the confusing plot ride, the movie is eye candy of the most delicious and calorific sort. Brian Slade and Curt Wilde's kiss is the best kiss I have ever seen on film, and the orgiastic scenes of decadent nudity scan like a postparty nap at the Playgirl mansion. It's too bad we didn't see more of Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale). We saw everyone else's butts, so why not his? Heh...
My last question is this: how did these skinny little men get into their skinny little pants? The fabric is tight! Were they sewn into them, like Marilyn Monroe into her JFK birthday dress? This enquiring mind wants to know.
on July 19, 2004
The film is beautiful. It's a fairy tale, love. Make no mistake about it. It's not a "history" of Glam rock and the characters are composites of many real people without being too much of anyone. It's a fairy tale.
The film is very symphonic and atmospheric, and flutters thru the celluloid sky. It can be confusing at first viewing, because everything is juxtaposed and jumbled. It flickers between eras, characters, and storylines in a half-remembered dream way. The movie must be watched as a feeling, not a sit-back-and-relax caper.
The movie is NOT based on David Bowie and Iggy Pop, at least not entirely. They never had such an affair and never had such lives. The movie is fiction. Brian Slade is no more David Bowie than he is Marc Bolan or Jobriath, and Curt Wilde is no more Iggy Pop than he is Lou Reed and David Johansen. And neither of them are any of them. They're composites of the essence of real people - or of the feeling of them - thrown into a London backdrop thru the lens of Citizen Kane and an Oscar Wilde fairy tale.
Many of the events are real events (Brian's Top of the Pops performance, as well as his relationship with Cecil, is very much akin to Marc Bolan's performance and relationship with Simon Napier-Bell -- The Maxwell Demon album cover is an almost exact remake of Jobriath's self-titled album cover, etc...). Many of the events are real fictions (the movie plays out threw a Citizen Kane-like sequence -- Oscar Wilde's story "Star Child" is carried throughout the movie via a green pendant which is passed around, not to mention many Wilde quotes and parables from stories such as "The Remarkable Rocket" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray"). But nothing in the movie is real. It's simply beautiful fancy.
The film is based around reporter Arthur Stewart, who is, in 1984, on a quest to discover the mysteries behind a fake murder/publicity stunt of Brian Slade in 1974. Everything and everyone in the movie circles back to him, and his discovery. What does he eventually discover? Symbolicly, himself. Literally... watch the movie.
The real Star of the film is Jack Fairy, a beautifully elusive archeotype with the grace of Garbo, the fantasy of Oscar Wilde, and the power of Marc Bolan who silently glides thru the movie, not saying a word until the end, but playing one of THE MOST VITAL ROLES in the movie (he and Arthur make the movie... Brian and Curt are just vehicles for everything to happen).
Many great songs too, from T. Rex, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, Cockney Rebel, etc... Most of them covers, though. As well as newbies such as Shudder To Think and Pulp.
It's a beautiful film. Not action packed, kinda confusing, and not too tethered to a plot. But beautiful - ethereal. It's very layered. If you enjoy Glam rock, Oscar Wilde, Citizen Kane, fairy tales, or just things and people to fall in love with, you'll probably like the movie.
Oh, one interestingly thing to point out is the surplus of Roxy Music songs, but the lack of a Bryan Ferry-like character. Bryan was a consultant for the film, so methinks that's intentional - he made sure they kept him out of the muck.
on August 23, 2004
Set in London in the early `70s during the start of the Glam Rock scene is Brian Slade, talented rock star with no fans. Brian seeks fame with his American wife Mandy and together they struggle to find it until Brain meets Curt Wild. Brian meets Curt Wild, a fellow rocker, and together they set out to change the world along. Meanwhile, a teenage boy, Arthur Staurt, idolizes and finds comfort through is own homosexuality though Brian and Curt. But at the peek of Brain's career, he fakes his own death and is lost in the dust. Ten years later, an adult Arthur, who is a journalist for the Herald, is told to unfold the mystery behind Brain Slade's disappearance.
The acting and cast is done amazingly. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who plays Brian Slade, is absolutely perfect for his sweet but nasty rock star role. His baby doll face and luscious lips shift from a delicate kiss to an intense freak out scene with swift ease. Toni Collette, who plays Brian's wife Mandy, starts off as a gullible party girl, to a scandalous head case, and finally to a cynical survivor. Ewan McGregor's character Curt Wild is a mix of Iggy Pop and Kurt Cobain smashed into one sweet, lovable, tantrum throwing, heroin addicted rock star. McGregor brings to his character what Johnny Deep brings to Captain Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." Both are original and leave a huge impression on the audience. Christian Bale, who plays Arthur Staurt, does a great job for his coy and mysterious character. You have to give him mucho credit because for the one uncomfortable intimate scene with himself he had to do, in which he gets caught by his parents. It's an intense scene that makes you really feel for his character and what a struggle his life is. And for you diehard Placebo fans, yes that is right, they are in this film. They do not have a huge acting roll, but you can see them sing two songs and say a couple of lines. For you crazy Molko lovers out there who just want to see his face and hear him speak, don't expect to see too much of the sexy Placebo singer, but there is enough for you to have a taste. (Mind you it's a very small taste.)
It is no surprise that "Velvet Goldmine" was nominated at the 1998 Academy Awards for best costume design. From the screaming colors, platform shoes, love beads, and male belly shirts the teenagers wear, to the sequenced glitter tops, tight leather pants, fluffy boas, and beautiful black nail varnish the rock stars sport, "Velvet Goldmine" does not cut the audience sort when it comes to fashion eye candy. And let me tell you it is a real treat. Brain's alter ego, Maxwell Demon (which freakishly resembles the whole Ziggy Stardust thing David Bowie had going on) has a beautiful costume that consists of blue body paint, black eyeliner, glitter dust, and dazzling body jewels and sequences. If the audience has not experienced glitter rock, he or she will with just the costumes alone.
Although the Glam craze was dressed up like a beauty pageant, the music was still the most important piece to the glistening puzzle. All the music is `70s Glam inspired. This flick has a lot of original Glam songs from the likes of Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, and T-Rex. The renditions of songs such as "T.V. Eye," "Baby's on Fire," and "20th Century Boy" are done in an original manor, but also keep their natural flare. As I said before, Placebo is featured in the film as The Flaming Tongues and goes a great rendition of "20th Century Boy." Not only does Brian Molko from Placebo has a great voice, but so does Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Ewan McGregor. Their voices range from a distraught scream, to a jazzy bounce, and finally to a sweet ballad. The music in this film is not to missed. I highly suggest the soundtrack to this film. It's very very good.
All right, here comes where the critics come in. Most critics did not like this film, which is a shame because I think it's a beautiful film. I think one of the main reasons they didn't like it was because the story line is pretty hard to follow at first. It's cut into pieces and does not go in a linear pattern. If you're up for that, I suggest you watch the movie and don't freak out if you don't get it at first. Then after thinking about it watch it a second time and I guarantee you'll see it much differently and you'll actually get it. Another nonsupporter of this film is surprisingly enough Mr. David Bowie. This could have to do with the anti-Bowie slant of the film or as he said something about how it didn't feel like the whole `70s Glam craze. He said it felt like the early `80s or something of that effect. Sure, he's probably right because he was there, but if you don't view the film on being some historical masterpiece, and appreciate it for it's beautiful story, I think you'll like it. It's a fairy tale with a setting. Bowie did say he did like the way the director showed the beautiful love story between Brian and Curt. And I have to agree, the director did an amazing job. You can really feel what he was trying to say with it.
"Velvet Goldmine" is arguably one of the most original, jaw dropping, charming films to date. It is a film for mature audiences because of the language, drugs, sexuality, and uh Ewan's "saber." "Velvet Goldmine" is recommended to anyone who liked the movie "Gia," likes to piece things together, has an open mind, has patients, has a taste for delicious music, and has a soft spot for hunks in drag.
on June 3, 2001
Being a huge Bowie fan definitely helped my appreciation of this visually stunning film, as much of the Brian Slade character's dialogue is taken direct from Bowie quotes and legend, but there is so much more here, lying in wait to be discovered. First and foremost, the music! Todd Haynes was unable to secure the rights to any Bowie tunes, but it doesn't matter. The songs are absolutely representative of the era, especially the Roxy Music tunes covered by "The Venus in Furs". Their remake of "2HB" is perhaps the most beautiful five minutes ever committed to tape. Then the cast..Ewan McGregor is mesmerizing as Kurt Wild, Christian Bale is understated and intense simultaneously. Toni Colette is brilliant as well. Jonathan Rhys Myers certainly looks his part, but suffers from a certain stiffness that is happily remedied by the rest of the ensemble. The movie flows like a dream, the plot is here and there but if you let yourself be swept up in it, it will seduce you. I implore all adventurous cinema goers to seek this out. Love it or hate it, you will not forget it. Its a shame there are no extras on this disc, a directors commentary would be most welcome, someday.
on January 10, 2016
I had a video disc and finally bought this beautiful DVD and so happy for that.
This movie is an amazing music video, a long one. It has some story in it but I would rather call it as such.
It is so beautifully shot that I cannot stop watching it for 2 hours everytime I watch it.
The music is amazing and the acting is like a dream.
IF you have no idea about Glam rock, you better watch this movie. You will fall in love just like I do.
If you like to experience being in a dream for 2 hours, buy this dvd and you will get it.
If you need a concrete story, don't be bothered.
This is a whole different movie.
I think the director wanted to make a whole different movie from the beginning.
Someting visually stunning. And here we go.