1971: Glamrock explodes all over the world and challanges the seriousness within the flowerpower generation by means of glitter and brutal music. Brian Slade, a young rockstar, inspires numerous teenage boys and girls to paint their nails and explore their own sexuality. In the end Slade destroys himself. Unable to escape the role he created for himself, he plots his own murder. When his fans discovers that the murder is a fake, his star falls and he is forgotten about. 1984: Arthur, a journalist working for a New York newspaper, gets assigned the story about the fake murder of Brian Slade. When Arthur was young and grew up in Manchester, he was more than a fan of Slade. Reluctantly he accepts the assignment and starts to investigate what happened his old glamrock hero.
This gem of a film, stands among one of my favorite cult musical films of all time. It’s an early performance by Christian Bale before he was a name and it’s certainly a tribute to the David Bowie years…namely Ziggy Stardust.
Now as a Bowie fan, I was transfixed with the telling of this surreal but strikingly dead on piece of fiction inspired by the 70’s. I will say that the homosexual aspects were not for me, though that was only an “aspect” and not so much a focus. This was a time when pop idols like in the Ziggy phase were so prevalent that society was turned upside down emulating their heroes. That emulation is exactly what happens to the character of Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) who is assigned the reporter job of tracking down the whereabouts of one missing pop idol Brian Slade. We begin in the early days when the air was full of theatrics, wild times, drugs, experimentation and most of all the music of innovators. With a brilliant score and round of music tracks, we are introduced to the ever popular Brian Slade who is in the midst of faking his own death. We find that this faking is a means to an end of too much of “too much”. Though society wont let their idols die in which controversy becomes uncovered and Slade is buried under his own hype. Fallen from the limelight Slade becomes a mystery of past fame.
Arthur, a former fan himself takes on the news story bringing all the past and present into a haze of rocks stars and detective work. We fly back and forth between present and past in this telling of the early days. Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor) inspires Slade which inspires a generation. Inspiration takes on the form of Slade who inspires his fans to dress proactively, paint their nails and experiment with their own sexuality. Curt Wild crosses paths with Arthur in his investigations which begins to blur the whole sense of real vs fiction (in this fictional state). We begin to experience the journey that Arthur has brought upon himself.
The film begins with a child named Jack Fairy. Jack is symbolic of a future 70s pop star who also becomes a piece of the puzzle. Jack is not the story but he is symbolic of the generation and of things to come.
However you perceive the pieces, the pieces pay tribute to David Bowie, and Iggy Pop. Whether thru intention or familiarity it certainly paints an interesting picture of the 70’s. On emight say, colorfully flamboyant. Those prearranged hype mobs, the bigger than life personas, the constumes and of course the wonderful one of a kind music. This was the music that exploded and took a life of its own. Hats off to director Todd Haynes for creating a realized dream of a film. While I tried to draw slight comparisons to films like “Breaking Glass”, it really is a stand alone piece. Velvet Goldmine in title alone pays tribute to a Bowie song of the same name.
What really added the tip of the iceberg here was not only a brilliant performance by all but an outstanding soundtrack that used existing 70s songs with original songs written in “70s style”.
It was after seeing this film that I ran out to buy the DVD, the soundtrack and a few Bowie albums to boot. I’ve never experienced anything quit like it and have since re-watched the film at least 10 times. It has this sense of vortex that sucks you back into a Glam rock era with perfect harmony providing an aura of Freddie Mercury to boot.
It could be said that it inspired future films like “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, but I think it stands more as fictional Bowie film based on non fiction based on fiction. (if that makes any sense) Jonathan Rhys Meyers who I’ve saved for last to mention becomes Brian Slade in a remarkably transgressive psychedelic sense. It is not so much in pure performance as it is in his simple expressionism and look.
The ending which I’ve analyzed over and over is perfect resolve to the whole story which presents a altered version of the Eddie and the Cruisers (kind of) ending. “Velvet Goldmine” stands as a perfect cult film with flair, style, intrigue and magic. That magic was once called Ziggy Stardust, you should check him out if you haven’t.
Now fact inclusions for a film like this is a must. Thanx to IMDB for these of which I’ve included below:
The film was originally titled “Glitter Kids.” In development, the original screenplay was titled “Glam!”
Much of the dialog comes from Oscar Wilde’s writings.
Osheen Jones, who plays Jack Fairy as a little boy, is the son of Howard Jones, British pop star of the 1980s.
The young man who says, “Mr. BBC,” is played by Wash Westmoreland, brother of Micko Westmoreland, who plays Jack Fairy.
When Brian first sees Mandy, he says “Do you jive?” That’s what David Bowie is supposed to have said when he first saw his first wife, Angela Bowie.
The David Bowie song “Velvet Goldmine,” though originally recorded for the “Hunky Dory” album, wasn’t officially released until 1975, being the b-side to the re-issue of the “Space Oddity” single.
The singer performing a lounge version of Roxy Music’s “Bitters End” is ‘Peter Bradley Jr’ from the band Subcircus, a last minute replacement for Roland Gift from the Fine Young Cannibals.
The name of Brian Slade’s rock persona, “Maxwell Demon,” and that of his band, “The Venus In Furs”, are references to two of the key artists in the original Glam Rock movement: Maxwell Demon was the name of a band in which Brian Eno performed in England in the mid 60s, and “Venus In Furs” is the name of a song by Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. Songs by both artists are featured on the film’s soundtrack.
During the Festival sequence where Brian sees Curt perform for the first time, Ewan McGregor was only due to moon the disgruntled crowd. But inspired by the antics of Iggy Pop, he improvised, and ended up gesticulating wildly while flashing the audience, leaping about with his trousers around his ankles.
When Christian Bale and Ewan McGregor were filming their sex scene, the director cut without letting them know, so the two continued to simulate the act until they realized the trick that had been played on them.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Ewan McGregor sang their own songs in the movie. (Some of Rhys Meyers’s songs were overdubbed by Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke.)
The film was originally supposed to feature some of David Bowie’s music, hence the title. However, when Bowie learned that the script for the film was partially based on the unauthorized biographies “Stardust: The David Bowie Story”, written by Henry Edwards and Tony Zanetta and “Backstage Passes” written by Bowie’s ex-wife Angela Bowie, he threatened the producers with a lawsuit. Hence, no Bowie songs were used, and the script was partially re-written to avoid unnecessary resemblance between Bowie and the Bowie-style character Brian Slade.
Todd Haynes originally wanted to cast British pop star Jarvis Cocker as Jack Fairy.
The Curt Wild character is mainly inspired by David Bowie’s relationship with two American 1960’s underground rockers whose careers Bowie resurrected, ‘Iggy Pop(I)’ and Lou Reed. Iggy Pop hailed from Michigan and shared Wild’s long blond locks, while Reed underwent shock therapy for bisexuality as a teen and was rumored to have had an affair with Bowie before their falling out after Bowie produced Reed’s album Transformer. Much central to the film is fictionalized such as the mythical, mysterious decade-long disappearance of “Slade”, although he reincarnated himself as Tommy Stone, a blonde with a white suit (the ‘thin white duke’). Bowie wasn’t as huge of a star as Slade is depicted here and never withdrew for so long from the public-eye as did the film’s character.
Velvet Goldmine (1998)