Velvet Goldmine (Blu-ray)
I will admit, glam rock is not a phase or time with which I can easily identify. Starting in the late ’60s, the glam rock era was on the decline by the time I was born in 1979. However, music has always been an important part of my life, and though I didn’t live through this time period I still feel strongly connected to this movie. In addition to being a beautiful film to look at, the sound and music are interwoven seamlessly with the performances to create a whole world that exists in abstraction but feels incredibly real.
VELVET GOLDMINE is a conceptual love-letter to the world of glam and the life and work of David Bowie, but it is also a simple story told well. This is the story of Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers of THE TUDORS, FROM PARIS WITH LOVE), a Bowie analogue and pop idol in Britain and America. Simultaneously, this is a story of investigative journalist Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale, THE DARK KNIGHT), who comes of age during this era. Despite living in a repressive household, Arthur experiences the rise of the glam rock age from the front lines. Ten years later, in 1984, Arthur is tasked with investigating the rise and fall of Slade by his publication’s editor.
As he researches Slade, we start to learn about Arthur’s own childhood and how he was influenced by this rock revolution. Arthur meets with Slade’s original manager (played by British mainstay Michael Feast) and his ex-wife (Toni Collette in her most soul-wrenching performance), each revelation unlocks a memory (or fantasy?) from the time. We witness Slade’s evolution from innocent to predator as he becomes a sexual icon for both men and women (with a fair amount of full frontal nudity).
VELVET GOLDMINE uses an interesting technique of story-telling. The director refers to it (in the commentary) as a mixture of fantasy, reality, and memory; what results is nothing short of breathtaking. As Arthur meets with people involved in Slade’s life, the story-lines of our two main characters become more and more inter-connected. Though they never truly meet, we experience much of the madness of the time through Arthur’s peripheral viewpoint. Always the outsider, he sees in Slade’s career a chance to feel included and ‘normal’ for the first time in his life. These moments are the ones that feel closest to reality and they are given additional gravity by Bale’s performance.
The movie is full of wonderful singing and acting performances. The music is as varied as the actual glam rock movement – starting with the trippy, pseudo-hippie music of the late 60’s to analogues of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character/tour (here Maxwell Demon, a musical sex alien). Ewan McGregor (TRAINSPOTTING) gives one of his most incredible performances to-date disappearing inside American rocker Curt Wild (fashioned after Lou Reed and Iggy Pop). VELVET GOLDMINE was also the first screen time for stand-up Eddie Izzard, who delivers a starkly real caricature in manager Jerry Devine. VELVET GOLDMINE didn’t do well in the box office, and it certainly isn’t for everyone (the nudity and depictions of homo- and hetero-sexual love are definitively adult). But, if you enjoy music and love amazing performances by actors at the top of their craft, you should definitely check out this hidden gem.
Video: (1080p, 1.85:1 Widescreen) The picture is beautiful and varied throughout the movie, with rich colors that will look amazing on your television.
Audio: (English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio) The audio is the star of the show, as it should be. Whether we’re seeing a live performance or hearing haunting dialogue of Bale and Collette, the audio brings you to the center of the film.
Audio Commentary with Director Todd Haynes and Producer Christine Vachon (01:59:14) Director Haynes says at the start that he feels it is important to give the films fans a full commentary experience so he will refer to notes. However, nothing sounds rehearsed or rote. The director and producer interact easily, though the commentary is presided primarily by Haynes. This is a jam-packed love-note to the film – something that I usually don’t like – but here is a nice addition.