Most people if they were to look at my music collection would notice one genre more than others. That is glam rock. From the mid 80’s to early 90’s, glam rock was completely in vogue with bands like Bon Jovi, Whitesnake and Motley Crue. However, if you were to read up on your glam history, it actually started in the seventies with groups like the New York Dolls and stars such as David Bowie. Enter the movie, Velvet Goldmine, a fictional look at Brian Slade, better known as Maxwell Demon.
In 1854, at the city of Dublin it is said that aliens came down and delivered Oscar Wilde, a famous writer and poet, to a local monastery. He was quote once that he wanted to be a pop idol. On his neck, we can see a green broach that somehow found its way one hundred years later to the hands of a young Jack Fairy. Jack knew that he had been singled out for his great gift and that the whole stinking world would be theirs.
A crazy mob of fans are in search of the illustrious Brian Slade aka Maxwell Demon. Among the fans is Arthur (played by Christian Bale) who recognizes Jack Fairy (played by Micko Westmoreland) as they run by. Brian Slade (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a trend-setting glam rock musician, one of the first of his kind and he is playing tonight. However, the rocker has had some disturbing premonitions as of late. He is dreaming of being murdered.
Brian Slade goes on as Maxwell Demon and starts his show. Arthur cheers on his favorite musician as he notices a gun peer out from the back of the room. However, he is powerless to stop as it is raised and fired to the stage ahead. It shoots and kills Brian Slade. The Maxwell Demon is dead, rock fans around the world are absolutely crushed and heartbroken. Ten years later we find out that the whole bloody thing was a hoax created to get Brian Slade out of the limelight.
Arthur Stuart has grown up and is now a music reporter. He is asked to write up a story that finds out what has happened to Brian Slade on the 10th year anniversary. Unfortunately this opens up a part of his life that Arthur was trying to forget. He remembers it like yesterday when he was drawing the fabled rocker and then bought his first record with the Demon’s likeness. It was that point he became obsessed with the glam superstar and spent every waking moment absorbed in the music.
But Arthur needs more than research or repressed memories. He needs to be able to talk to people who knew Brian intimately and get their story. People like Cecil (played by Michael Feast), Brian’s first manager or his ex-wife, Mandy (played by Toni Collette). But as Arthur digs deeper into the stories of two of the closest people Brian ever knew, he discovers Brian’s true obsession. That obsession would be fellow musician Curt Wild (played by Ewan McGregor). Would Arthur be able to unravel the mystery?
The cast in this movie was wonderfully recruited. Top to bottom, we have some real characters here and they deliver their part with absolute perfection. All of the roles capture the flamboyance and glitz of the era they are trying to emulate. The movie is set in the seventies but it does reek of eighties’ excess in an interesting way. The costumes are elegant and I really enjoyed the ambience. It spins an interesting story, there are just a few problems with it in presentation.
The main problem is that this is anything but a murder mystery. Most of the details are explored early on with only a few gaps missing. It is more about Brian Slade and his eventual love affair/obsession with Curt Wild. Or obsession with the Curt Wild stage image (rather than the coked out/meth head in real life). Furthermore, it seems that even though the majority of the scenes have music in them, the actual movie is not really about the music (which is the part that interests me).
It seems like more of an excuse to show us a whole lot of homosexuality and male nudity. Not that it bothers me but the movie more often than not is trying to shock the viewer rather than entertain them. Of course, I reckon some people might find the concept of Ewan McGregor and full front nudity to be a plus. However, I am not one of those people. I was looking for an entertaining musical period piece and instead I found a rather twisted love affair full of people that weren’t very interesting.
The video is in 1.85:1 widescreen presentation in 1080p resolution. As expected with the subject matter, there is a lot of vibrant costumes and color spread throughout the movie. There are lavish set pieces and more sparkle than you can throw a glitter bottle at. However, I did find some of the proceedings to be soft and 1998 movie at times looks more like it was produced in the eighties (but was probably part of the intention). Very good overall.
For the audio portion, we get a 5.1 English DTS-HD. The audio is where this movie really shines brightest. Despite the fact that Bowie did not allow his tunes on the movie, you could swear that the artists were clearly writing music from the same playbook. Sound is beautiful and the 5.1 DTS mix makes it all that much sweeter. Dialog is no problem despite the numerous thick British accents. It is pretty close to near perfect all the way around. Subtitles are included for English, English SDH and Spanish.
- Automatic Trailers: Trainspotting, Hesher, Pulp Fiction, and EpiX HD
- Audio Commentary with Director/Writer Todd Haynes & Producer Christine Vachon: Todd and Christine were very well prepared here and even brought notes to make sure they included everything they wanted to. They confirm my thoughts on Ewan McGregor looking like Kurt Cobain even though they swear that was not done on purpose (but apparently Courtney Love thought so). They do a lot of talking about the Bowie influence and really do a great job with technical and location information.
- Theatrical Trailer 1:42: This trailer is very much the victim of bad marketing. They try to sell the movie as some kind of murder mystery when it couldn’t be more badly represented. Looks like both me and the general audience was fooled.
Despite some of my negative commentary on the movie, I found the movie to be slightly satisfactory. Somewhere between the glitz, the glamour, Ewan McGregor’s nudity, and painted aliens, the film can be enjoyable at times. It is a picture of glam rock (with lots of heavy references to David Bowie even though he never dignified the notion) with the attempt to create a murder mystery which really just turns into a love/obsession story.
The disc screams in the audio department while giving us an enjoyable commentary and above average video. Fans of this cult experience will certainly be pleased with the update to blu-ray. I think it will be about half and half on people who enjoy rock and roll movies that have not seen this however. A slight recommendation is in order (mostly for the experience) as long as do not mind a very explicit movie. I am not sure I will ever look at Batman (Christian Bale) the same ever again.