This is perfect. Velvet Goldmine was destined for midnight-movie status before it even hit screens earlier this fall, packing all the elements of a great cult film--big rock music, subversive sex, a rambling narrative, pretty boys and girls (and more boys), and its focus on a pop subculture. In this case, it was the speedy rise and messy fall of '70s glam rock.
The Inwood has been screening Velvet Goldmine at midnight for several weeks now, and promises to continue to for at least a few weeks more. After dark on a weekend is the best way to see a flick about the stuff that happens after dark on weekends, anyway.
Todd Haynes, the New York filmmaker with enough queer-cinema clout to pull this off with such aggressive aplomb, has angled his valentine to glitter accordingly, showing how glam-rock heroes affected their young, gay audience. But in using an allegorical early-career David Bowie type as the quasi-hero ("Brian Slade" a.k.a. "Maxwell Demon," played with deft poutiness by Irish actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), he's basing the events and personalities of the film on history, though only mildly. Demon's counterpart-lover-nemesis, named Curt Wild and played with nasty-deluxe sexuality by Ewan McGregor, is an amalgam of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and Mick Ronson; shadowy transvestite glam purveyor Jack Fairy is part Brian Eno, part Brian Ferry, and part Haynes' fantasy. Even the secondary characters have some root in reality--the Wild Ratzzz are a kind of U.K.-tweaked New York Dolls, and of course Mandy Slade, Brian's brashly supportive wife, is more Angela Bowie than anything. (Played generously and beautifully by Toni Collette, Mandy is also the most sympathetic and three-dimensional of all the characters.) Haynes trips back and forth between taking the whole thing way too seriously and having tongue-in-cheek fun with it.
The gloom (and moral of the story) stems from the plot's buried framework. A thirtyish reporter (played by Christian Bale, the once-kid from Empire of the Sun who so nicely and obligingly grew up), has been assigned by his editor to find out whatever happened to Demon 10 years after the shooting-death hoax that ruined his music career. The reporter, embarrassed and made cynical by his past obsession with Demon and glam, would rather forget the whole thing. It was, after all, a scam. The freedom and decadence of glitter turned out to be no more than a ruse, a context through which to launch un-gay rock stars before they wore out their welcome. Scenes of a drab, loner Bale researching the story and flashing back to his teenage glory days of star-chasing in London undercut the gleeful, melodramatic sequences of Demon's precarious rise to fame. Powdered wigs, platform shoes, McGregor shaking his wiener during an Iggy-explosive stage moment, mountains of cocaine, orgies...As I wrote once before, in the end, it's soft-core for straight girls and gay boys. And throughout, the best soundtrack of last year blasts.
Haynes and Michael Stipe produced the soundtrack, packed as it is with vintage tunes by Roxy Music, T-Rex, and the like, and subsidized with new additions and covers by Shudder to Think, Venus in Furs (featuring Thom Yorke), and indie-supergroup the Wild Ratzzz (Mark Arm, Mike Watt, et al.). If anything, the music is the trump card, the thing that gives the shiny non-substance of the film its staying power. Oh, OK, and the sex. And the costumes.