Velvet Goldmine

on November 06, 1998 by Lael Loewenstein
   Surely among the Cannes fest's most anticipated, most hyped and most-discussed films, "Velvet Goldmine" comes from writer-director Todd Haynes, who intrigued Cannes audiences three years ago with "Safe." This time Haynes takes up glam rock, setting his story in two separate eras: 1971-1974, when Britain's glam rock reigned supreme, and 1984, when reporter Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) is writing a story on the 10th anniversary of a (fictitious) key event in glam rock history: the faux assassination of glitterati rock star Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who disappeared after the failed publicity stunt.
   With a complicated, avowedly "Citizen Kane"-style framing device, Haynes has reporter Stuart trace the rise and fall of Brian Slade. Stuart, a glam rock fan in his youth, has personal knowledge of these famous musicians, and as he tracks down and interviews key characters from Slade's life, he also relives his own fascination with the movement. Real-life androgynous glam rock stars like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno are emulated in the form of the provocative Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor) and the outrageous Slade, managed by the savvy Jerry Divine (Eddie Izzard). Though Brian flaunts his bisexuality, his wife Mandy (Toni Collette) stands by him. But when Brian becomes inexorably drawn to Curt Wild, the obsession ruins him. Unable to escape what he has become, Brian stages a fake shooting, which, when revealed to be a hoax, alienates his fans. Brian goes underground for several years, and Stuart is determined to find out who or what he has become.
   Though "Velvet Goldmine" is often a fascinating reflection on the mythical power of music idols and the nature of memory, identity and nostalgia, it poses many more questions than it answers and is finally a frustrating viewing experience. There are flashes of Haynes' imaginative style and humor here--like the tiny pink hearts superimposed on Brian's eyes when he finally meets Curt Wild. Though some of the concert scenes are mesmerizing, they run on too long and become repetitive, dulling the potentially visceral impact of the glam movement. Nevertheless, the picture was honored for "Special Artistic Contribution," an award which, in retrospect, feels more like a consolation prize. Starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ewan McGregor, Christian Bale and Toni Collette. Written and directed by Todd Haynes. Produced by Christine Vachon. A Miramax release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and drug use. Running time: 120 min
Tags: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Ewan McGregor, Christian Bale, Toni Collette, Todd Haynes, rock 'n roll, music, publicity stunt

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