Tuesday, September 16, 2003

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The distinguished Mr. Sean T. Collins expresses disbelief upon reading that I didn't like the film Velvet Goldmine. Straight out of Bizarro World, me will now not explain why me liked that movie. Bear in mind that I haven't seen it since my initial viewing in 1999.

For those of you that don't know, Velvet Goldmine was for David Bowie (and to a lesser extent, Iggy Pop) what Citizen Kane was for William Randolph Hearst, a thinly veiled biopic. It was released in 1998, and starred Jonathan Rhys-Davis as "Brian Slade", a mysterious Bowie-like figure and Ewan McGregor as Curt Wild, a Iggy-type. Kane-style, new Bat-guy Christian Bale played a reporter who tried to find out what happened to Slade, who had retreated from the public eye in the 1980s.

Glitter Rock, or Glam Rock if you will, was a short-lived phenomenon that rose up as a reaction to the music scene in the late 60s, which was full of earnest hippie types who played bluesy rock. Glam brought a sense of theatricality, imagination, flamboyance, and yes, a gay sensibility to what was perceived as the stodgy music environment, and as a lad of 12 who was just beginning to discover music magazines and different artists, I was instantly attracted not necessarily to the androgynous aspects but just the sheer visual panache and musical cleverness of artists like Bowie, Marc Bolan, and Roxy Music. Of course, Glam never really caught on in the US, most likely because it was just too weird and different for mainstream tastes at the time. But I loved it, and was sad to see artists like Bolan fade away. Heck, many of my favorite albums and musicians remain those of this period.

So when I heard that a new movie was coming out, and it was going to be about the Glitter days and specifically Bowie (I also seem to remember that it began as a biopic with La David's participation, but Bowie pulled out of the project), I was very excited. And of course, when the film hit theatres the knuckleheaded conservative area movie house operators wouldn't show it because it was vaguely controversial. So I had to wait another year to rent the video, which I did on the day it was released. Perhaps because I had built up so much anticipation (feel free to pause between the ci- and the -pa), after I watched it I was hugely disappointed...even angry. If one is to go by the general impression that this film leaves, then one will think that all the Glam Rock genre was about was sex, drugs and decadence, and getting a boner when you saw Bowie/Slade wearing eye shadow and silk pants. Now don't get me wrong- I may be a Kentucky boy, but I'm not naive. I know that all sorts of sexual and chemical shenanigans went down, and was indeed a huge part of that whole decade, not only the Glam era...but there was the music. The imaginative, clever, wonderfully played (in most cases) music. In Goldmine, the music was incidental, of secondary interest to visualizing that tired old question of "did Bowie really sleep with Iggy and Jagger?". I just think director Todd Haynes and his scriptwriter(s) completely missed the forest for the trees. The performances were OK, but neither Rhys-Davis or McGregor had half the charisma of their real-life analogues. Marc Bolan, who was just as instrumental in the rise and fall of Glam as Bowie, was given very short shrift, and the scene at the end that was supposed to depict Marc was amateur-hour all the way. Of course you know that pissed me off, too. Insofar as the soundtrack went, there were several apt choices, but again Bolan got the shaft- choosing the obscure, slight ditty "Diamond Meadows", from the equally obscure first proper T.Rex album, more popular in Britain but almost unknown in the colonies, was just all kinds of wrong. I know, licensing issues may have made that necessary. But still.

I will say one thing- the film looked good. Visually, it was first rate, like Haynes' other films have been. But I think he totally underestimated and misunderstood the movement he was trying to depict, and just created a trashy, condescending cross between Stardust and Citizen Kane, and that's something nobody wanted to see...especially me. I felt like he was cynically looking down on me, and others, who embraced Glitter wholeheartedly in the 70s. And that, Sean, is why I didn't like Velvet Goldmine.