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Festivale online magazine, November, 1998
Velvet Goldmine movie review
Citizen Glam

Big Daddy Orson has a lot to answer for. No, that’s wrong. He can’t be held responsible for Todd Haynes’ 1970s Glam Rock-based rehash of Citizen Kane, Velvet Goldmine. Velvet Goldmine takes the plot of Kane, the journalist sent out to seek an understanding of (what is perceived as) a great, toppled idol.

The journo interviews an old man in a wheelchair, the faded and fallen ex-wife, colleagues and critics. There’s nothing really wrong with this, I suppose, but doing it badly is the problem. Visually, the movie is right. From the glam 70s to the bland grey Thatcher/Reagan eighties, the sense of the times is excellent.

Movie Poster, Velvet Goldmine, Festivale online magazine film reviews; velvetgoldmine.gif - 20216 Bytes

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But the flaws are plentiful. There’s no Rosebud here to explain anything. The character of Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a passive enigma, manipulated in his own life. The character is a bland, empty mannequin mouthing soundbyte pseudo-profundities and gazing wetly at whatever is the current object of his desire. Supposedly loosely based on David Bowie, Slade has none of Bowie’s chameleon character changes and androgenous dynamism. Each change Slade goes through is the same pouting boy-man in different drag.

Christian Bale’s Arthur is a more complex character. Idolising Slade in the 1970s, he is sent by his editor to do a “Whatever Happened To…” piece on the popstar who faked his own assassination ten years before. The way things are framed, Arthur should be one of the focal points of the piece but he’s a mumbling semi-literate who never voices his own feelings on Slade, Slade’s influence on him and the ultimate betrayal and sinister twist. The journalists I know have the ability to speak well. Arthur doesn’t.

Toni Collette’s Mandy is better. An American dolly bird with an upper class Brit drawl that she loses when drunk or angry, she rides the Brian Slade train until his minders kick her off the caboose. She’s vulnerable and brittle and plays the changes in Mandy’s fortunes extremely well while never quite crossing the BORDER to campy stereotype.

Kurt Wild, the Iggy Pop type character who looks more like Kurt Cobain (a mistake that sends anachronistic signals to the audience) is Ewan McGregor at his best. It may be our last chance to see him in a good character role before the Star Wars movies turn him into a pristine icon.

Movie Poster, Velvet Goldmine, Festivale film reviews; velvetgoldmine.jpg - 16103 Bytes The music, where created for the film, is eminently forgettable, even more so than anything genuine to the era. The borrowed pieces worked better, though in several cases the choices of song were the obvious ones.

One of the big problems with this film is the script. From the superfluous scenes involving Oscar Wilde at the start (I genuinely thought I was in the wrong cinema for a weird moment) to the jumbled scenes at the end, any one of which could be the climax of the movie, this piece of work needed a script doctor badly. The arrhythmia is what killed it.

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See also: Toni Collette also appears in Diana and Me
Ewan McGregor also appears in Star Wars I
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Just the facts:

Title: Velvet Goldmine (1998)
Written by: story by Todd Haynes and James Lyons
Directed by: Todd Haynes  
Produced by: Christopher Ball (co-executive), Scott Meek (executive), Sandy Stern (executive), Olivia Stewart (co-producer), John Michael Stipe (executive), William Tryer (co-executive), Christine Vachon
Edited by: James Lyons  
Director of Photography: Maryse Alberti  

The Players: Ewan McGregor, Toni Collette
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Festivale Online Magazine
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ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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: Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia : copyright © Festivale 1998 All rights reserved
Filed: Jun-1998 : Last updated: : Last tested: 3-Jul-2014: Last Compiled: 3-Jul-2014
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