Velvet Goldmine (1998)
November 15, 2015 8:19 PM - Subscribe

In 1984, British journalist Arthur Stuart investigates the career of 1970s glam superstar Brian Slade, who was heavily influenced in his early years by hard-living and rebellious American singer Curt Wild.

The movie is certainly not about David Bowie in any legally discernible way.
posted by dinty_moore (20 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I just rewatched this recently, and was surprised and how many ridiculous feelings I still have for it. The visuals are still amazing, Christian Bale somehow manages to be an awkward teenager, and I would like to marry the soundtrack.

It's fun to speculate what the David Bowie biopic version of this film would have looked like, but I have to imagine it would have been completely different beast. Part of the fun is having everything be about three steps away from reality, like we're stuck in the hyperreality of a pop mythos itself.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:28 PM on November 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Talented Dr. Ripley came out around the same time and I saw both movies in the theater as much as I could and that's why my High School years where mostly swing jazz music and glam rock.

It has SO MANY FEELINGS. All of them. At once. It's a movie that feels like pop music.
posted by The Whelk at 10:11 PM on November 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm glad they couldn't use Bowie songs. The soundtrack is so so good and the songs written for the movie are great! I went through a big 70s glam rock phase in high school and this movie came out right at the same time. My friends did not understand, they were big into boy bands and such. My mom understood (I was listening to her old TRex and Bowie albums) and brought home the soundtrack to Velvet Goldmine and after listening to the music we went and watched the movie. I think we both quickly declared Velvet Goldmine as our favorite movie. We pretty much did the exact same thing with Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Mom found the music first, then the movie) which is another favorite. One day in college I walked past the Castro Theater and they were playing a double feature that night of Velvet Goldmine and Hedwig and the Angry Inch and I just felt SO happy.
posted by Swisstine at 10:48 PM on November 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah I love that that they couldn't use Bowie songs so they had a bunch of Bowie fans make Bowie-era LIKE tunes and the result is WE KIND OF HAVE NEW GLAM ROCK MUSIC YES
posted by The Whelk at 11:36 PM on November 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


although it's actually more like T-Rex which is even BETTER
posted by The Whelk at 11:38 PM on November 15, 2015


The Whelk, the teenage pedant in me is compelled to correct you and replace all that swing with bop and cool jazz.
posted by thetortoise at 3:37 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, this movie. This movie. First prize to Todd Haynes in the best fanfiction of all time contest.
posted by thetortoise at 3:40 AM on November 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


And yeah, yeah, this movie is the fucking madeleine for me too. The late nineties, a time of glitter and pageantry, when the soul of American indie cinema was not yet crushed by 9/11 and the insipid smirk of W. A time when the young tortoise fell in love with a rich girl and had her heart broken, and retreated into Velvet Underground records and rereading Brideshead Revisited so many times that converting to Catholicism started to look like a workable solution. Todd Haynes, student of semiotics, got Maxwell Demon to make more sense than Ziggy Stardust ever did. (Bowie never wanted to finish his metaphors.)

I watch the movies about the big famous-name popular musicians and I want to yell LISTEN TO THE MUSIC because it feels like nobody ever does, you know? Like Ray Charles and Johnny Cash could be actually the same person, like you could Mad-Libs the screenplay and make it about Courtney Love tomorrow, and the writers would never let the songs get in the way. Not this movie, which crawls inside the tarnished tinfoil-star soul of glam rock and makes an argument for Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel when no one else ever bothered. I'm Not There is that good, every bit, but meta-Dylan has always been a little easier than meta-Bowie.

The best part is that the soundtrack isn't quite good enough (hear that falsetto singing backup on "Satellite of Love" and nowhere else), so you have to finish the movie yourself, listening to all the albums after you leave the theater, while you're still under its spell. I'm an alligator, I'm a mama-papa comin' for you.

So we're all the junior-high girls drawing stars around their eyes. That's the point, really.
posted by thetortoise at 4:28 AM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I remember furiously downloading all the artists listed on the soundtrack off KaZaA and not really knowing which ones were from the original 70's scene (except maybe placebo).

I first heard about this movie from my best frenemy, who was about 5'10" and would wear silver pleather pants with platform shoes and a feathered jacket to high school even before she'd heard of it, so as far as she was concerned, the movie sprung directly out of her id without permission. So even before I got to see it, she described entire scenes to me. And rewatching it all now, it's exactly the same. Christian Bale's bad makeup and Toni Collette's wandering accent and the lizard person mauling some blow up dolls, it's all still there.

*my look around the same time was more 'occasionally mistaken for homeless punk'
posted by dinty_moore at 5:31 AM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Part of the fun is having everything be about three steps away from reality, like we're stuck in the hyperreality of a pop mythos itself.

Well, it's a choice of scenes pre-approved by lawyers, or Marc Bowie banging Iggy Reed. Why you'd let lawyers get in the way of fun makes no sense.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:16 PM on November 16, 2015


Yeah, untying it from reality nakes it even mir moree real to the strange world of glam rock itseld, unburderened by reality.

There us a persistent rumor from the crew of this movues that both actors got a little to into the sex scene and gad to be stopped.
posted by The Whelk at 1:43 PM on November 16, 2015


The version I heard was that Haynes didn't yell cut... Or that they were so preoccupied that they didn't hear him... ( a Source)
posted by dinty_moore at 3:53 PM on November 16, 2015


Oh man do I love love love this movie.

Glittery oily angry Ewan McGregor (with mandatory free willy).

Christian Bale being both incredibly awkward and endearing teenager and sad, disillusioned man.

Jonathan Rhys-Myers. In a dress.

Toni Collette being so starry-eyed and then so sad.

Jack Fairy!

And Eddie Izzard!

And what really happens anyway? I'm not saying it was aliens....

And the soundtrack. Thom Yorke!

Did I mention I love this movie? Love. It.
posted by biscotti at 5:45 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, untying it from reality nakes it even mir moree real to the strange world of glam rock itseld, unburderened by reality.

This is why, in a sense, I like 24 Hour Party People more than Control. 24HPP just plays around every legend and story of Factory Records, and everyone involved just plays along because "When you have to choose between the truth and the legend, choose the legend" was Tony's way of doing things.
posted by lmfsilva at 9:17 PM on November 16, 2015


As a former fan of Duran Duran and Adam Ant (80s British men in make-up), I was absolutelly enthralled by Jonathan Rhys-Myers's beauty in this film. SO. DAMN. BEAUTIFUL. Those lips. Those cheekbones. Those eyes. MMMMMmmmmmm.......
posted by Halo in reverse at 5:15 AM on November 17, 2015


Wow, as a pedantic Bowie fan from age 12, I really disliked this movie. It got everything so wrong. I remember feeling kind of embarrassed watching it. I guess ultimately I like how much they hated on 80s Bowie, although really, 70s Bowie was just as much the cynical businessman, just less canny.

The soundtrack is great though.
posted by latkes at 1:42 PM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm very much with latkes on this, although I understand why people who maybe aren't as much into Bowie as I am (as you might have guessed, that's quite a lot) like it as much as they do; I can see how this could have been the movie for me that it was for them. It's got a stellar cast and some really interesting ideas, particularly with the need/duty to separate what an artist brings to you and does for you with their art from the flawed and human artist themselves; I see that drama played out repeatedly in every fandom I'm a part of.

But the movie doesn't quite file the serial numbers off the Bowie biography that was originally intended, and as such it really doesn't get him. I wanted to like this movie, sincerely, but as I was watching it I was reminded of an interview Bowie did with Rolling Stone in the late eighties:
Have you read these two recent books about you, Bowie, by Jerry Hopkins, and Stardust, by journalist Henry Edwards and your old MainMan employee Tony Zanetta?

The two books on me? Do you know that at last count there are thirty-seven? Thirty-seven, at the moment. I stopped reading those things after about the fourth or fifth one. Because once one saw the cast of characters, it became obvious that they were making a career out of it. The inevitable names would just keep coming up: the ex-wife, Ava Cherry, Cherry Vanilla, Tony Zanetta. Basically, all the people who had such a good time in the early Seventies and now are broke.
That's pretty much your movie right there! And to the extent that it's not The Bowie Story, it's because Todd Haynes simply ignores his career between Diamond Dogs and Let's Dance--IMO the most interesting and productive years of Bowie's career--because it doesn't neatly fit his narrative of the guy who abandoned his loyal glitter fans and pretended to literally be a different person. (For those unfamiliar with Bowie's life and career, those were the years--roughly corresponding to the latter half of the seventies--in which he successfully staged a self-intervention to shake off his cocaine addiction, moved to Berlin, collaborated with a completely different set of artists including Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, and made two movies in which he starred, one of which was quite good (and itself sort of a metaphor for the corruption of an otherworldly genius by this world) and one of which was... meh. So, not really the story of a guy who pulls an Eddie and the Cruisers disappearing act.) The addition of at least a little bit of that part of the story--at least hinting that Slade had to "kill" Maxwell Demon because Demon (or the rockstar life that the Demon persona bought him) was killing him--would have made for a more interesting story. Bowie's story is a velvet goldmine, and a lot more could have been brought to the surface without bringing it so close that Haynes would need the approval of his ostensible inspiration.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:54 PM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love the soundtrack; find the film interesting but flawed.

I think Haynes was wise not to over-explain what he's got going on in the background but I've never been able to figure out how certain parts fit together with anything in the rest of the movie -- the alien pin, the fascist government in the "current day" scenes, a few other things.. Was there some sort of vision that connects these elements or is it just random stuff that Haynes threw in to make things seem weirder?
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:12 PM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I always thought the movie took place in the world of pop music, not like, actual musicians and songwriters and carriers, but the world you create when you're listening to an album for the forth time under the covers at 2 in the morning. You stich together all the haphazard mythology and emotion and album covers into this overarching THING so that alien pins and references fascism all just kind of make sense and fit into the whole thing.

Plus there's a lot of swipes at how reactionary and right wing Britian got in the post glam Peroid there too.
posted by The Whelk at 11:28 PM on November 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Was there some sort of vision that connects these elements or is it just random stuff that Haynes threw in to make things seem weirder?

I think the short answer is semiotics. And my longer answer is probably closer to what the Whelk said. It's less a film about being a pop star and more a film about being a fan, and what that pop star looks like from afar (more Phonogram than The Wicked and the Divine). And with the rumors that surround rock stars, you can imagine one of them saying that they have an alien pin from Oscar Wilde (or at least that getting printed in a magazine somewhere), or someone claiming that Oscar Wilde was the first glam rock star. And of course how the pin travels from person to person - Jack Fairy finds it forgotten (earns it through persecution, even) and brings in the glam look, Brian Slade steals it (and parts of his look) from Jack, only to give it to Curt when they're collaborating, and the buttoned up closeted adult Arthur tries to refuse it (but ends up with it anyway).
posted by dinty_moore at 6:50 AM on November 20, 2015


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