Velvet Goldmine (1998)

Second one of the night, like I said! This one is a much more in depth analysis than my usual reviews A) to make up to you guys, and B) because this is one of my favorite films!

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Velvet Goldmine (1998)
 Dir. Todd Haynes
 Writ. Todd Haynes, James Lyons
 Stars: Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christian Bale
 Rated R
 124 mins.
 Drama, Musical, Queer Film
 IMDB 7.0

Ah, Velvet Goldmine! Because who doesn’t want to see Obi-Wan Kenobi and Batman get it on?!

Ha, now that I’ve got your attention, let’s begin!

WARNING: this won’t be a spoiler-filled review, but it will give away some spoilers since it’s a more in depth analysis since this is one of my favorite movies.

To start with, the one thing you must understand about Velvet Goldmine is that it just doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t. The main story does, and the main story is beautiful, but there is a lot of REALLY. FREAKING. STRANGE. THINGS. that just do not make sense in this movie. I have seen this movie a dozen and a half times and there’s still stuff I just do not understand. There is some strange connection to Oscar Wilde made in the beginning that is never clarified, and is mostly just there as an excuse to use the quotes, I still don’t understand the weird magical jewel thing or why Jack Fairy and the jewel are significant to the story, so if you are confused after watching it, don’t feel left out. That’s just the film style. It’s a very odd but I think successfully employed film style. It’s very performative, it’s very artistic in its shots, and it isn’t meant to be of the classic film structure at all.

So important notice: The first time you watch this movie, you will be utterly mind-fucked.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s go into what Velvet Goldmine is about!

Beyond the confusing Oscar Wilde, magic jewel, glam = alien (?) weirdness going on in there, Velvet Goldmine is a semi-biographical film (will be explained later) that tells the story of the rise and fall of Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), British pop sensation as told through the lens of a journalist, Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) doing an investigation into the career of Brian Slade, with a heavy focus on the period of his rising fame and his tumultuous relationships with his wife Mandy (Toni Colette) and his lover Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor).

The film opens with Arthur being given the assignment to look into what ever happened to Brian Slade on the 10th year anniversary of his faking his death in a publicity stunt, and thus awakening Arthur’s memories of where his life and that of Brian Slade’s collided back in the 70s when he was a teen in the Glam Scene.

One thing that is important with this movie, is that it is a musical. It may not be the classic ‘randomly burst into song at breakfast’ type of musical, but it has random musical interludes that make very little sense other than to be aesthetically interesting and to give attention to the music that is central to a film about musicians and a musical era. I can’t actually think of any other film that is a musical in the same way this movie is, and I can’t imagine this movie being half as good as it is without the random musical interludes. It’s like music videos plugged into a film, and it really, really works. It helps I really love the style of music in this film. Nothing like a little 70s glam to chill to.

And that, my dear readers, is where the ‘semi-biographical’ part comes up. Very interestingly enough, Brian Slade is based on David Bowie in a heavy way. Most noticeable is the Maxwell Demon/Ziggy Stardust parallel, but also including some of his life events.

I dunno. It got too big I guess. It got too schizold, you know? I mean he thought he was Maxwell Demond in the end, you know? And Maxwell Demond… he thought he was God. – Curt Wild (Parallel to David Bowie’s identity crisis with Ziggy Stardust)

And then the other main character of the film, Curt Wild, is based on an amalgamation of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, most noticeably Iggy Pop’s heroin addiction and growing up in a trailer park and Lou Reed’s childhood electroshock therapy to cure homosexual urges.

It was guaranteed the treatment would fry the fairy clean out of him, but all it did was make him go bonkers whenever he heard an electric guitar.- Cecil (Parallel to Lou Reed’s childhood)

Add in the way Brian Slade records an album with Curt Wild the same way Bowie did with Iggy Pop, or the way Curt moves to West Berlin to live the clean life the same way Iggy Pop did, and there’s a lot of biographical influence into a fictional film.

The way the film shows eras of Brian Slade’s life based on who Arthur is interviewing is very interesting. Starting with Cecil, his first manager, and then going on to Mandy Slade, his ex-wife, who tells a substantial part of the story. It isn’t told necessarily in chronological order, but chronologically based on who is telling the story, and through the experience of whoever that is, as well. So it’s a classic case of unreliable narrator on top of the super confusing extraneous-seeming information to throw off the viewer.

The movie is very heavy-handed in its love of clever, artful writing, but the iconic quotes of Oscar Wilde that it uses in beautiful ways is pretty much worth it.

What is true about music is true about life: that beauty reveals everything because it expresses nothing. – Mandy Slade

 

The most central part of the story is about Brian Slade’s relationship with Curt Wild, and the way it is told is a story of tragic beauty. By far the best performance in this film is Ewan McGregor as Curt Wild, and that translates into such a beautiful love story, literal cartoon hearts in eyes, barbie doll theatre, and all.

The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history. Curt Wild to Brian Slade

One of the most tragic things in this movie about the downfall of a rock icon is the fact that Curt was so incredibly in love with Brian, and Brian did love him in a way, but mostly he loved what Curt could do for him. And as soon as Curt was no longer useful to him… well. Poor Curt.

I feel like this is a good point in the post to share my favorite scene from the whole damn movie!

It’s always fun to see how Arthur’s story ties in with both Brian Slade’s while timeline and with Curt’s. It’s very strange to me that you realize from Arthur’s voice over to a ‘you’ at the very beginning ends up being to Curt, but in a way it is really poetic.

I won’t give away the big ‘reveal’ of Arthur’s investigatory journalism, since that’s the biggest spoiler of them all, but I will bring up how confusing the ending is. I honestly still question the ending sometimes. I’m never sure what to make of how the story is meant to end, though curiously enough, apparently Ewan McGregor has his own personal belief of what happened after the ending that I find amusing.

I mean I love the ending, especially how Curt’s last profound moment ties in to his very first one.

Curt Wild: We set out to change the world… ended up just changing ourselves.

Arthur Stuart: What’s wrong with that?

Curt Wild: Nothing, if you don’t look at the world.

I love this movie, crazy amounts. I won’t play it off to be the best movie ever, and it takes several watches to truly appreciate, but in the end, it’ll always be one of my favorites.

My Rating: 7/10

 

 

 

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About J. Chelsea Williford

Student at Middle Georgia State University, writer, pop culture lover.
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