Velvet Goldmine

By Seligman, Craig | Artforum International, October 1998 | Go to article overview

Velvet Goldmine


Seligman, Craig, Artforum International


All That Glitters

Next month Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes' cinematic secret history of glam rock, opens in theaters across the country. The most substantial production to date from the director of films including the cult classic and more recently Safe, new feature reimagines the moment in recent pop history as a libertine fantasy turned '70s morality play dense with allusions, both musical and literary. Craig Seligman measures the returns against the ambition.

Velvet Goldmine takes the history of glam rock - that brief, early-'70s burst of glitter that gave the world David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and a flock of other mascaraed musicians who seemed to want to be drag queens - and does a makeover on it. It's a delectable idea, even if the thirty-seven-year-old writer and director Todd Haynes, a semiotician by training and a cool drink of water by temperament, isn't the most likely filmmaker to have come up with it. Actually pop subjects coax Haynes toward the kind of showmanship he needs to connect with an audience. At least that's the impression I took away from Dottie Gets Spanked, his weird and funny 1993 short about a little boy's psychosexual reactions to a TV sitcom, and especially from his 1986 Karen Carpenter biography, Superstar, the movie that was famously made with Barbie and Ken dolls. Something about the pathos of pop kitsch tickles Haynes and loosens him up, and he winds up responding to it more completely than he does to loftier subjects. On bad days he leans simultaneously toward obscurantism and didacticism. Both impulses are at work in Poison, his 1991 meditation on (among other things) Jean Genet and AIDS prejudice. His 1995 feature, Safe, a study of a troubled, vacuous woman who retreats to a New Age commune, is far more controlled, yet so pulled back that by the end it's hard to tell just what Haynes is trying to accomplish.

Velvet Goldmine certainly isn't pulled back. From the distance of twenty-five years, glare has come to look worn and a little bit silly, but Haynes does a wonderful job of making it fresh. He grasps the preposterous sexiness of the pose - he makes glam glamorous. And he captures the intensity of the effect it had on its fans, especially gay kids. The framing device is a Citizen Kane structure in which a thirtyish reporter (Christian Bale) sets out to discover what happened to a vanished pop star; flashbacks intertwine the story of the star with the story of the reporter when he was an obsessed fan just awakening to his sexuality. For its first hour, the movie is an uninterrupted rush. It's got a fine sound track: Haynes and his music supervisor, Randall Poster, have combined '70s records (by Brian Ferry, Brian Eno, and others), covers, and music newly written for the movie. Michael Stipe was one of its executive producers, and the musicians are just about flawless. So are the sets, the costumes, the makeup: they're all hilariously, excruciatingly right. Still, if you remember the era, you emerge with static in your recollections. How can you safeguard your memories when a character who is based on Iggy Pop and who resembles Iggy but who clearly isn't Iggy does an Iggy song? It's not a desecration, like, say, Diana Ross imitating Billie Holiday--he does it sensationally. But it's disorienting. And Haynes puts this cognitive dissonance to use. He has an agenda, and chipping away at authenticity makes it easier for him to get away with reinventing musical history.

The glam rockers took the improbable fagginess of Mick Jagger's stage act and codified it into something like an ethos. Or rather, they pretended to: a lot of their gay fans felt deeply betrayed when the stars turned out just to be straight guys with a gimmick. It's to this audience - and its young successors - that Haynes wants to offer a history they've never been able to lay claim to: he makes a political statement and at the same time indulges his fantasies by pretending that these performers really were gay. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Velvet Goldmine
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.