August 3, 2011

Queer Review: Velvet Goldmine (1998)

Velvet Goldmine
Director: Todd Haynes
Writers: James Lyons and Todd Haynes
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christian Bale, Toni Collette, Eddie Izzard, Micko Westmoreland

Velvet Goldmin is a triumph of style over substance and with a confusing plot to boot, thereby making the best part the glam rock soundtrack.

Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was 70's glam rock biggest star, until a mock assassination ruins his career. Ten years later, reporter Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) is given the task of finding out the motivation behind Slade's assassination stunt. Stuart starts by tracking down those who knew Slade and interviewing them, hoping to find out what happened to Slade after his career crashed and burned under stranger circumstances then the Roswell UFO. What follows is a psychadelic journey through several stages of Slade's career, as the plot jumps through time, place, and logical loop holes.

The Queering
Movies that focus on style over substance often have confusing plots and Velvet Goldmine is no exception. The movie jumps back and forth between time periods, making it nearly impossible to know what characters we are dealing with in a particular scene or understand how each one is related to each other. This situation is aggravated by the fact that most of the 70's characters look a lot alike. While Velvet Goldmine never sinks to the same depths as Querelle, a little more coherency would have been greatly appreciated. I am not sure if another viewing would have cleared matters up, but to blunt, I have no plans on doing that any time soon.

There are numerous references in Velvet Goldmine to other artists and works of art. Oscar Wilde is frequently quoted and McGegor's Curt Wild, a rocker whose original act included stripping naked in front of a live audience before setting the stage on fire, is clearly based upon grunge icon Kurt Cobain. Brian Slade is a David Bowie clone. In better works of art, these sort of references and allusions can make a good story great, and great story sublime, but in a mediocre one like Velvet Goldmine, they only serve to make Todd Hayne's film appear more like a pretentious rip-off then it actually is.

Speaking of Todd Haynes, I have to admit to being disappointed, as I expected a stronger effort from the director of Far From Heaven. Of course, the success of the later film can probably be chalked up to Hayne's greater experience, but I should probably avoid such judgements until I can see the rest of his films.

As for the technical elements, the cinematography of Velvet Goldmine manages to conjure up some memorable imagery. On the negative side, the soundtrack during the musical sequences is never lined up quite right, thereby making it obvious that the actors are lip syncing. This is unfortunate as the best part of Velvet Goldmine is the grooving soundtrack.

I found watching Velvet Goldmine to be a frustrating experience. The confusion caused by the surreal style and plot jumps undermines any potential the material might have had. In short, there is no goldmine, velvet or otherwise, to be found here, only bits of bronze nuggets from other, better works of art.

Not the worst movie in existence, but I would personally recommend buying the soundtrack instead.

The Rating


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.


  1. Dear Sweet Darling,

    You say "these sort of references and allusions can make a good story great, and great story sublime" but it's clear you are not familiar with the references that Todd Haynes is using. I do not hold this against you as you are young, but it is not the fault of the filmmaker if the viewer, especially one who claims to be so committed to Queer identified content, is ignorant of the iconic people, books, films and history referenced in this movie. Your review of Querelle, for example, has no mention of Jean Genet, whose work is also referred to in Velvet Goldmine. Kurt Wild is based on Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, not Kurt Cobain. (Kurt Cobain dyed his hair in homage to Iggy.) Perhaps you would find viewings of Citizen Kane, Metropolis, Cabaret, Performance, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Flaming Creatures and Sebastiane worthwhile to you if you plan to write about cinema and Queer history/philosophy in depth. Of course, The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins are musts too.

    All the Best,


  2. Lux,

    Thank you for your comment. Of the movies you've mentioned, I've seen Cabaret and was not enamored. I think The Celluloid Closet let me down on that one by getting my expectations up only to have them dashed. I've also seen Metropolis. Citizen Kane is on the Netflix cue and has been for awhile.

    Per your suggestions, I've added The Man Who Fell to Earth, Performance, and Sebastion. Flaming Creatures did not appear to be available on Netflix. I saw The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins when I was a kid, but have not revisited them since.

    As for Velvet Goldmine itself, I feel very strongly that a movie must be able to stand on it's own, influences and references to other works should be used to enhance, not as substitutes for good storytelling. For example, The Hours is very obviously influenced and inspired by the works of Virginia Woolf but one need not be familiar with them to appreciate The Hours. For the record, I have tried reading Mrs. Dalloway, but gave up half-way through when I realised I still had no clue what was going on. This has never lessened my love of The Hours, either the movie or the novel.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.