”Velvet Goldmine,” by the iconic American indie director Todd Haynes (“Poison,”“Safe”), is his most visually flamboyant and textually dense but also most problematic feature to date.
At the 1998 Cannes Film Fest, “Velvet Goldmine” received fro the jury (headed by Scorsese) the “Artistic Achievement” award for this re-creation of
the U.K. glam rock scene of the early 1970s, when Hayne was a young boy.
Released in November by Miramax, “Velvet Goldmine” sharply divided critics and was a commercial failure, particularly in relation to its budget, the biggest of any Haynes’ films to date.
Three appealing Britsih actors are cast in the film. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays the lead, glam rock star Brian Slade, a man named Maxwell Demon, who announces his own death onstage. However, when the killing is exposed as a hoax, it marks the end of Slade’s stardom. A decade later, in 1984, British reporter and former Slade fan Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale), who witnesses the hoax murder, gets the assignment to do an investigative story.
From that point on, the narrative imitates Orson Welles’ masterpiece “Citizen Kane” by presentating various and contradictory perspectives on Slade’s life and his career.
In what becomes an obsessive interrogation, Arthur visits the wheelchair-bound Cecil (Michael Feast), who discovered Slade. He then tracks Slade through his early life and his initial encounter with outrageous, maniacal American singer Curt Wild (played by Ewan McGregor with an incoherent accesnt).
We also meet Slade’s manager Jerry Divine (British comedian Eddie Izzard), as he moves in to take over the performer’s career.
In a scene lifted right out of “Citizen Kane,” Slade’s former wife Mandy Slade (Toni Collette), is interviewed by Arthur in a dark nightclub, and she recalls their initial meeting in1969 at the Sombrero Club. It comes as no surprise that their marriage parallels his Bowie-like ascent to fame as an innovative, bisexual rock star pushing the limits. Largely idolized by teens, Slade teamed up for a while with the drug-addicted Wild. Predictably, the marriage of Mandy and Slade comes to an end, and she claims to have not seen him in years.
The busy, loud, overwhelming soundtrack features vintage music by Bryan Ferry, Lou Reed and Brian Eno, and new tunes.
Most critics found the rich film to be narratively fragmented (in the positive sense), but also disjointed (in negative mode) due to a multi-layered structure that never allowed viewers entry into the characters’ milieus–or the director’s POV.
The tone was also problematic, in some scenes dramatically realistic, while in other cynical and ironic.
There is too much music in the film, which ultimately came across as a bizarre oddity, a curio item. The sets and costumes offer pleasure to the eyes, but obviously that was not enough to make the feature work.
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 123 Minutes.
Directed and written by Todd Haynes.
Released: November 6, 1998.
DVD: May 18, 1999
Ewan McGregor as Curt Wild
Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Brian Slade
Toni Collette as Mandy Slade
Christian Bale as Arthur Stuart
Eddie Izzard as Jerry Divine
Emily Woof as Shannon