Velvet Goldmine (1998)

(Netflix Streaming, January 2016) I would have gotten a lot more out of Velvet Goldmine had I had more than a cursory knowledge of the glam-rock scene. As it is, I’m left to wonder how deep the parallels run to David Bowie and his contemporaries, and how to appreciate writer/director Todd Haynes’s somewhat free-form approach to the film. There’s a lot of stuff packed in Velvet Goldmine, almost too much so: The story takes place in an alternate reality where the United States have quickly turned fascistic, for instance, but very little is actually made of this framing device. The highlight is placed on a period ten years earlier, in tracing the rise and fall of a rock icon and his troubled relationships. I’m not sure how much of it is a film-a-clef, but it plays reasonably well to ignorant audiences such as myself. The music isn’t bad (and I say this as someone who doesn’t particularly like progressive rock), the cinematography is often spectacular, and actors such as Evan McGregor and Toni Collette get to show their wild sides as uninhibited rock stars. (Christian Bale, not so much—but it’s a different kind of role.) Almost twenty years later, Velvet Goldmine has aged pretty well as a twice-removed period piece. Watching it days after Bowie’s death is enough to give the film a sentimental value than I wasn’t expecting when I placed it on my Netflix queue.

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