valyrianneil said: What did you think of Velvet Goldmine?
Velvet Goldmine changed my life. I would not be the person I am today without it.
I first saw it in the theater when it came out, in the little arthouse at Yale. At the time I was only minimally conversant in the work of David Bowie — this film being to Bowie what Citizen Kane was to William Randolph Hearst, you might say — and had zero knowledge of any other glam. I thought it took too long to get off the ground and that it didn’t rock hard enough. I enjoyed the soundtrack, which I purchased, but aside from the “Baby’s On Fire” montage-orgy sequence in the middle of the film I didn’t think much of the movie itself.
A few years later I’d graduated and moved back home. I was flipping through the channels late one night and stumbled across Velvet Goldmine playing on Cinemax; I believe it had reached the “Ballad of Maxwell Demon” music-video segment. “Huh,” I said to myself. “This is better than I remembered!” An hour and a half later the film ended and I was completely enthralled. That enchantment has never gone away.
Why? Well, on the level of art it’s simply a beautiful film; Todd Haynes is good at that. It’s full of beautiful people being very sexy, which is also a good thing to be. (Toni Collette’s shimmy in that silver dress when she first meets Bryan Slade is one of the sexiest things I’ve ever seen in a movie. So is Bryan and Curt’s kiss, duh.) For a pop-culture omniphage like myself it’s full of multilayered references to rock history, film history, literary history, you name it — you can pick “Curt Wild” alone apart for like fifteen, twenty minutes if you want. The music rules. The character work is quietly complex and empathetic — notice the empathy in the seemingly scruple-free Jerry Divine’s voice when he tells Bryan he can’t renew Curt’s contract, for example; notice how Christian Bale’s character joins the party in London only after it’s basically over, technically making him a poseur or bandwagon-jumper, characterizations the film deliberately ignores in favor of a nonjudgmental look at how art can change, even save, lives no matter where or when or how that art reaches those lives.
That’s the message that stuck with me, the message inherent in that aspect of the Arthur Stewart storyline. Another film would have portrayed him as inauthentic, right? It would have been about the progenitors’ scene exclusively; a provincial wannabe like Arthur would be viewed like, well, like the O.G. glam kids in his town view him when they give him the stinkeye as he walks along in his best-he-can-do glam finery. The message of Velvet Goldmine is that authenticity is a sham, a trap, a weapon used to penalize and separate. Artifice, the willingness to ingest and incorporate new influences at will and move on just as easily — this is sanity-preserving salvation. Bryan, of course, takes it too far, because he divorces artifice from empathy. The film, and the characters who matter in it, does not.
Once this sank in, which happened immediately, I went right out and bought up the highlights of David Bowie’s catalog. Then Roxy Music’s. Brian Eno’s. Every bubbleglam band and one-hit wonder I could track down on Napster. (Napster!) From Velvet Goldmine to David Bowie to the jettisoning of a lifelong fixation on authenticity, on figuring out WHO I AM and being ONLY that FOREVER, on working as hard as I can to project only one thing about myself and fight like a border guard against anything else — took about a week, I’d say.
I love Velvet Goldmine.