Velvet Goldmine

Velvet Goldmine

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The rock-and-roll demon is hard to catch. Filmmakers stalk the image, not the feeling, and seldom come close. Oliver Stone's take on The Doors missed by miles. Todd Haynes uses live bait. He knows too well that sexuality has an irresistable pull. The devil's music demands hell fire and damp underclothes.

Velvet Goldmine is drenched in the sweat of its dreams. Chaos, wonderment and exaggeration bathes the film in light that hath no understanding. The life of a pop star is not the same as that of a commodity broker. It is not the same as anyone. Haynes uses unreality as a metaphor. "A man's life is his image," glam rock icon, Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), declares. So be it.

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The story of Brian's rise and fall, from Birmingham to New York, from shy obscurity to squealing recognition, is told in Burroughsesque cut-ups, with no chronological order and little respect for the biopic form. Haynes uses an unlikely reporter (Christian Bale), who was once a groupie and a fan, as his fact finder. Where is Slade now? Who was he then? Why has the music died?

By breaking the rules and messing the mix and loving the bedscape of boys-who-will-be-girls and avoiding the conventions and being cinematically bold, Haynes touches the soul of those Seventies years, when cosmetics stained the faces of the blessed and bisexuality was cool. If rock is sex, drugs are roll. The two cut each others' arteries. In paradise, remember, there are no encores.

The performances defy comparison. Ewan McGregor is unrestrained as an Iggy popster, half-naked, totally stoned, behaving on stage like a man in flames and off stage with rapacious disregard for sexual etiquette. Rhys Meyers pays homage to Ziggy Stardust, while drinking at the fountain of beauty. His mastery of the flirtatious scowl matches the confidence with which he handles the songs. Toni Collette, as Slade's American wife, is the most complex and complete. She has chameleon qualities, physically changing from one period to the next, turning a support role into a bulwark, slipping her accent from one side of the Atlantic to the other when circumstances demand. If glam was sham, Haynes flaunts it. This is the closest you'll come to experiencing the allure of fame and the power of illusion.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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The rise and fall of a glam rock icon.
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Director: Todd Haynes

Writer: Todd Haynes

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christian Bale, Toni Collette, Eddie Izzard, Emily Woof, Michael Feast, Janet McTeer, Mairead McKinley, Luke Morgan Oliver, Osheen Jones

Year: 1998

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/US

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