By conventional moviemaking standards the upcoming film Velvet Goldmine promises to be pretty daring stuff. But for filmmaker Todd Haynes, this eye-popping cinematic journey into London's glam-rock scene of the early '70s actually represents a move toward the mainstream.
Known primarily as an underground writer-director, Haynes debuted in 1987 with Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story--a surprisingly compassionate look at the life and death of singer Karen Carpenter enacted by a cast of Barbie dolls. Since then he's gained a reputation as a cerebral artist whose avant-garde storytelling techniques have helped him tackle abstract subjects like AIDS (Poison) and even our increasingly toxic environment (Safe).
But with Velvet Goldmine, Haynes wasn't trying to make a sweeping intellectual point. He wanted to make a film about glam rock because, well, he loved the music when he was a kid.
Haynes was wild about glam-rock artists like Roxy Music, T. Rex, and Ziggy Stardust himself, David Bowie. "A very uncritical love," Haynes calls his teenage infatuation, and it was that reverie that initially took him back to the glam-rock era more than four years ago.
"Only later, as I started to look at it more, did I realize how much a story there was of the various artists,' a weary-looking Haynes re called in May as he sat at the Carlton Inter-Continental Hotel in Cannes, where Velvet Goldmine had its world premiere the night before (and by festival's end would earn Haynes a special prize for Best Artistic Contribution). "There was literally a narrative that bound them together at a specific time and place. In London, Bowie acted as a mentor for that period by producing a lot of other artists, giving out songs like `All the young Dudes' to Mott the Hoople--really being a gravity point for a lot of them."
Velvet Goldmine showers sequins, spandex, and furs on a cast led by next year's Star Wars star Ewan McGregor as the idlike Iggy Pop figure, Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding) as the discarded wife, and Irish up-and-comer Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the pansexual Bowie-like superstar. And Goldmine's sexual triangles and betrayals are filtered through a Citizen Kane-style narrative by a young news reporter (Christian Bale, Little Women) who participated in the funky-fab gender-bending time.
What intrigues Haynes about the era is its full-out embracing of nonconformity, its willingness to be bisexual, pansexual, to shock with lipstick, eye shadow, or attitude. "Ultimately, I think the period is the most radical, progressive period," he says, gesturing fervently with his silver-fingernailed hand. "It produced the most interesting and varied work in film and music that we've seen since then.
"I'm sure my opinions about the actual products of that period are completely subject to my age," Haynes acknowledges. "I'm 37, so I was a little young for it. …