Velvet Goldmine

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

VELVET GOLDMINE
****
8/10

UK 1998, dir. Todd Haynes, 132m

A major box-office flop on its initial release, and it isn’t hard to see why – in fact, it’s baffling that it was ever regarded as a potential crowd-pleaser. Haynes’ followup to his equally idiosyncratic Safe is defiantly non-commercial – perhaps even anti-commercial. This is a wonderful mess of a movie, an anything-goes recreation of the spirit of glam rock’s 1974 heyday that plays fast and loose with normal cinematic standards of period accuracy and plot development, but the unorthodox approach proves just right. Off-the-wall tone is set by prologue in 1854 Dublin, as a giant spacecraft deposits a baby on a doorstep which grows up to be glam-ancestor Oscar Wilde. Remainder of the action flicks between the “present”, a drab dystopian version of 1984, and ten years before, when ‘Maxwell Demon’, baroque alter-ego of Birmingham pop star Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), sabotaged his meteoric chart career with a clumsy on-stage ‘murder’. Movie’s structure – unobtrusively echoing Citizen Kane – follows journalist Arthur (Christian Bale) interviewing Slade’s friends and colleagues in an attempt to find out the truth behind the headlines, including Slade’s wife (a brilliant Toni Collette, whose accent habitually switches mid-sentence between New York and London), and volatile US rocker Curt Wild (a miscast, top-billed Ewan McGregor), who’s as much Kurt Cobain as he is Iggy Pop. Rhys Meyers, in the pivotal role, delivers a string of Bowie-type numbers with aplomb; silky-voiced Michael Feast and brash Eddie Izzard excel as his feuding managers. Film is occasionally meandering and repetitive, and it does goes on a bit long, but builds to a satisfyingly melodramatic finale. A brave, unique picture that confirms Haynes as one of the leading US directors of his generation.