By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
What Haynes is after in Goldmine is less a historical film about glam than an elegy for a time of stylish revolt, stripped of didactic politics and dolled up in open-ended ambiguity. What interests him is what has interested him from his earlier films Poison, Safe and Dotty Gets Spanked: the complexity and construction of sexuality; notions of authenticity (where so many white-boy rock & rollers strap on black culture's bluesmen in pursuit of that elusive ideal, Haynes tips his hat to the lipsticked Queen of Rock & Roll, Little Richard); the origins of art and desire; and the heroism of those who refuse to make the banal distinction between fantasy and reality.
It's a heady film.
In the end, though, if Velvet Goldmine is about anything, it's about the power of pop culture to transform our lives. It's about the circular nature of the relationship between fan and star, about the projection of fantasies and desires, and how that energy is what feeds celebrity in the first place. Velvet Goldmine remembers a time when the exchange promised - or threatened - to change the world.
There's a scene in the film, set in a nondescript living room in early-'70s London, in which the teenage Arthur sits watching television with his parents when Maxwell Demon begins to perform. "That's me!" shouts the boy, gesticulating wildly toward the TV. "That's me!" The camera moves in close to the set as Demon commits an act of transgression that, had the boy been watching by himself, would have served a kind of spiritual fellowship between idol and fan. But watching with his parents, Stuart - whose teen angst and alienation seem to leak from his pores - is trapped between horror and ecstasy. He'd only wanted to explain himself a bit, to bring identifiable form to his fumbling existence - not have desires that dare not speak their names clarified before folks who'll never understand.
Velvet Goldmine travels fluidly back and forth across time and space, shuffling genres and styles, offering nods in the direction of avant-garde traditions as well as to classic Hollywood convention. (Haynes even throws in an homage to his own cult film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.) It's an absorbing, sexy, weighty work - and disgesting it is akin to digesting a delicious 12-course meal. That's due in large part to the fact that Haynes still makes movies like a precocious first-timer who's afraid he won't get another chance: He shoots the film as if he has to cram in every idea he's ever had, commit to film every image he's ever imagined. As with Oscar Wilde, he's studied across disciplines and brings all he's learned to bear on his art. Unlike Wilde, though, he hasn't yet learned to synthesize it all. Still, what Haynes has undeniably accomplished is a movie with pure glam-star attitude. Where so many current films nervously hop into theaters begging you to love them, Velvet Goldmine saunters in - self-aware, self-involved and rightly convinced that it's the most dazzling creature around.
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