Velvet Goldmine

Todd Haynes was one of the most exciting filmmakers to emerge in the 90’s with indie masterpieces like Safe, Poison, and the infamous, banned Superstar– but as he got older, his obsession with formalist cinema, and mimicking other filmmakers’ styles, seemed to take precedence over having something to say, with varying degrees of success (Far From Heaven was beautiful and thought-provoking, I’m Not There was pretentious dribble.)

Velvet Goldmine is smack-dab in the middle of both Todds. Steeped in 70’s Glam Nostalgia, it’s an alternate-universe trip through real pop icons (David Bowie, Iggy Pop, etc.) represented by fictional stand-ins. It’s full of stylistic shifts (warm, 70’s vibes vs cold 80’s starkness) weaving through a bubblegum narrative that is more a love letter to a bygone time than a deep artistic statement.

Still, it’s a wonderful trip; Glam is, by nature, all about artifice, and Velvet Goldmine spins that artifice into the most enjoyable content this side of Ziggy Stardust. It follows the story of a young journalist trying to figure out what happened to his favorite Bowie-esque glam star, who has disappeared with the death of glam into self-exile. If there’s a deeper subtext here, it’s to show how much the 80’s obliterated the soul and spirit of the 70’s (which evolved from the freewheeling spirit of the 60’s.) In this way, fictional Bowie stand-in Brian Slade is himself a stand-in for the death of our culture- the open, anything-goes spirit that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan symbolically killed.

Of course, this movie would stink if it didn’t have an amazing soundtrack, and Haynes deserves kudos for mixing classic non-radio hit glam tunes with contemporary (for the 90’s) glam songs worthy of their 70’s counterparts. Heady art-rockers Shudder to Think lead that pack with a couple of gorgeous gems worth the price of admission alone. Whether for the music, the fashion, the nostalgia, or just the overall trip, Velvet Goldmine is a unique creature: a self-consciously superficial movie about a self-consciously superficial time.

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