Film 76: Velvet Goldmine (1998)
My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.
We tackled Ride With the Devil, Ang Lee’s empathetic take on the American Civil War.
This time it was on me, and I narrowed it down to the bare essentials before making my final choice.
Pleasantville (1998) via Tobey Maguire because… I’ve been meaning to watch it for years.
The Newton Boys (1998) via Skeet Ulrich because… I really should see a third Skeet Ulrich film.
Outlander (2008) via Jim Caviezel because… it’s got aliens and vikings in, I’m only human!
The Village (2004) via Celia Weston because… an M Night Shyamalan film might at least be fun to dislike.
Safe Men (1998) via Mark Ruffalo because… it’s got Sam Rockwell in it and I will watch him in anything.
And the winner… Velvet Goldmine (1998) via:
Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Turns out I’ve been lucky enough not to see him in that much. Ah, I miss those innocent days. I mean, he’s clearly very pretty, he looks like a Frank Quitely comic book character, all bee stung lips and such… but… well, I’ll talk about it below.
Velvet Goldmine and me
Sometimes we come across classics in CRFC and it’s a little embarrassing to admit I haven’t seen them (I didn’t start blogging this until after we watched The Godfather, thank christ). Other times there are films which, if they’re not stone cold classics, they are at least so incredibly pertinent to my interests that my not-having seen them beggars belief.
I got into glam rock when I was in my early teens, mainly through T Rex and Sweet. Then in my late teens and early 20s I was in a goth band with definite glam leanings. We preened, we were thin white dukes all (ok, thin white oiks), and I had the best silver mock snakeskin coat the world has ever seen.
And as all this was happening, Velvet Goldmine came out. My best friend and bandmate saw it at the time and told me I had to see it.
And for some reason I didn’t.
In 1984, British journalist Arthur Stuart investigates the career of 1970s glam superstar Brian Slade, who was heavily influenced in his early years by hard-living and rebellious American singer Curt Wild.
And that’s the hum of someone unsure of what they thought rather than someone humming along with a tune.
It’s definitely not what I expected, which can be both blessing and curse. And realising that it was directed by Todd Haynes, he of the Dylan biopic in which 7 diverse people play Dylan at different times of his life should have been a clue (really must see He’s Not There at some point).
Jonathan Rhys Meyers is Bowie-alike Brian Slade (though different enough following lawsuit threats apparently); Christian Bale is a journo who had a formative experience at a Slade (oh, I see what they’ve done there) gig 10 years ago and is now doing a where-are-they-now piece about the vanished star; Ewan McGregor is Iggy Pop-alike Curt Wild. That one. I’ll watch the Iggy one please.
And I think that was my main feeling – I couldn’t give a monkeys about Meyers or Bale in this, Ewan McGregor’s Curt Wild was so much more fun and charismatic (and likeable) that the others sort of paled (even more than the make-up). He was a lot Iggy, a bit Jim Morrisson and, according to Courney Love, a bit Kurt Cobain. It’s a strong mix. Rhys Meyers on the other hand, fresh from last weeks appearance as some sort of bizarre vampire in 1800s America, seems to be playing a bizarre vampire in 1970s London. Is he a bizarre vampire in everything? I’ve not seen The Tudors but can picture bizarre vampire Henry VIII all too clearly…
It did make me think a bit though. Not about what it wanted me to think about, mind, whatever that was. No, it struck me that it was made in the late 90s when there was a sudden surge (or it seemed like it at the time) of experimenting with sexual orientation. Out the back of the Yeoman on a Friday night you’d have to be blind to miss boys snogging boys and girls snogging girls, and this in Tunbridge Wells. People were professing their bisexuality all over the shop. I had some confusing feelings about Jamie Theakston for god’s sake. And Velvet Goldmine reflects that atmosphere back and says yeah, it was right there in the 70s too (though there did seem to be a conflation of homosexuality and paedophilia in places which was somewhat… troubling).
And now that we’re living in a time when sexual orientation and gender identity are big mainstream topics my main thought is that I hope it sticks this time. It’s been bubbling away in subcultures for so long that I really do hope we’re at the point where it isn’t all forced back underground and cloaked behind euphemism. It’s there behind the hippies, glam, punk, new romantic and on and on and on. It’s always been there, now perhaps we can discuss it sensibly and publicly accept that it has indeed always been there. Always will be there no matter what happens in the grand scheme of things. It feels like we’re really close this time, laws have been made after all and mainstream gay and trans icons abound, but events across the pond are showing how quickly things can be undone…
Getting back to the film for a sec, most damningly I didn’t come away from it humming any tunes. And that’s unforgiveable. There’s a decent version of Gimme Danger courtesy of Ewan’s Curt Wild. And Placebo turn up to give 20th Century Boy a decent outing (but come on, unless you piss about with it 20th Century Boy is always going to be 100% banger). For all Cadillac Records‘ flaws I was singing Chuck Berry and Howlin’ Wolf songs for days afterwards. I still find Sing Street’s Riddle of the Model popping into my head (seriously, go and watch Sing Street if you haven’t already. And watch it again if you have). The Blues Brothers is held together by the strength of the songs… and that’s where Velvet Goldmine falls flat.
Come to think of it, The Blues Brothers might be a good comparison. Both have a sort of hyper reality that keeps becoming quasi music video. Both deal with forgotten musical heroes in a way… Wikipedia tells me that Velvet Goldmine closely parallels Citizen Kane, but I’m saying The Blues Brothers is the one to compare it to. And I know which of those gets me singing…
If you’re after Citizen Kane allusions I’d recommend the episodes of The Real Ghostbusters and Pinky and the Brain instead.
It’s Tim’s choice. I hope it doesn’t involve a bizarre vampire.