Velvet Goldmine

A luscious, richly textured dream of the glam-rock era, re-imagined by Todd Haynes as a short-lived and fatally flawed utopia of erotic possibility. The year is 1984: Not some '80s-nostalgia 1984, but a proper Orwellian 1984 of oppressive architecture and totalitarian gloom. Reporter Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) is assigned to a 10th-anniversary investigation...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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A luscious, richly textured dream of the glam-rock era, re-imagined by Todd Haynes as a short-lived and fatally flawed utopia of erotic possibility. The year is 1984: Not some '80s-nostalgia 1984, but a proper Orwellian 1984 of oppressive architecture

and totalitarian gloom. Reporter Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) is assigned to a 10th-anniversary investigation into the disappearance of English glam rocker Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Myers), who engineered the fake murder of his stage persona, Maxwell Demon, only to see his career take a real nosedive. Arthur hunts down Slade's ex-wife Mandy (Toni Collette), now a second-rate cabaret performer, and his wheelchair-bound first manager, Cecil (Michael Feast), trying unsuccessfully to contact American proto-punk Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor), whose career was briefly but spectacularly intertwined with Slade's. But Haynes isn't just fashioning a cheeky homage to CITIZEN KANE. He's mounted a full-scale, slinky deconstruction of the flash-in-the-glam era of mutable identity and sexual ambiguity. Every time you're about to surrender to the divine decadence of Haynes' lustrous images, he pulls some high-brow mirror trick, say, having a spaceship deliver the baby Oscar Wilde -- the changeling dandy who gloried in razor-edged camp before there was a word for such things -- to the doorstep of unsuspecting Victorians. Or inventing the mercurial figure of Jack Fairy (Micko Westmoreland), who adopts and sheds a series of flamboyant personas like some exotic insect (eventually settling for Quentin Crisp by way of Sally Bowles) and links several generations of sartorial revolutionaries. Ignore the temptation to play roman a clef: Of course Brian Slade/Maxwell Demon bears an unmistakable resemblance to David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust; Curt Wild is an Iggy Pop-Lou Reed hybrid (with a startling dash of Kurt Cobain), and Mandy Slade echoes Angie Bowie. But this densely textured extravaganza is more than thinly veiled pop biography: It's a shimmering, thorny, and consummately self-aware valentine to a paradise, however illusory, lost.

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Cord-Cutting Guide. Credit: Robert Rodriguez / TV Guide

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