has been on my viewing list for many years—it came out when I was seven, and by the time I hit my “obsessively watching anything with queer men in it” phase in middle school, the film had already exploded as a cult classic because King Henry and Obi-Wan Kenobi make out in it. There are some movies that I’ve missed the right age to watch—The Breakfast Club
, in particular, is a film about horrible people doomed to repeat their parents’ mistakes to me, since I watched it as an adult—but I’m relieved I didn’t watch Velvet Goldmine
until I was twenty-one.
In a way, Velvet Goldmine is like Moulin Rouge (Ewan McGregor’s presence in both films set aside); it’s a two-hour long music video, with the editing and pacing implied thereof. But while Moulin Rouge’s cheerful and romantic numbers are punctuated by a melodramatic storyline, Velvet Goldmine is punctuated by an investigation. (I was surprised to see how directly the structure of the film patterns itself after Citizen Kane.) But it’s not really about that investigation—it’s about the brief candle of glam rock that it captures, especially contrasted against the exaggerated dystopian 1984 that serves as the present day for Arthur Stuart, our journalist protagonist.
In another way, Velvet Goldmine is like Poppy Z. Brite’s Plastic Jesus, a short novella where she explores, via thinly veiled characters, the implications of a romance between Lennon and McCartney. Brian Slade is based off of David Bowie and Kurt Wild, McGregor’s character, is based off of Iggy Pop, and there’s a moment taken verbatim from Angie Bowie’s account of finding her ex-husband in bed with Mick Jagger in the nude. The film concerns itself a lot with sexuality and discovery—the young Stuart has a revelation over a photo of Slade and Wild kissing—and the figure of Jack Fairy, the person who single-handedly starts glam rock, haunts the film. (I was surprised to hear him sing at the end of the film.)
All of this is important, of course, but the core of the film is the inscrutable Slade and his appetite for fame, and the destruction wrecked thereof. For the most part, it works—I was thrumming with energy halfway through the film, utterly unconcerned with the world outside the film—although there are some missteps, like the fact that the older Slade is played by a different actor who entirely lacks Rhys Meyers’ energy (although that might be the point…). And I’m still not sure what to make of the opening, which posits Oscar Wilde as an alien and aspiring pop star whose emerald brooch is passed from glam rocker to glam rocker. (Naturally, Jack Fairy is the one who finds it.) But it’s part of glam rock, this identification with the ultimate alien, and claiming Oscar Wilde is part and parcel of being queer and creative. The film actually borrows quite a lot of Wilde, and the resultant smorgasbord manages to be quite affecting.