Velvet Goldmine

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Velvet Goldmine

Though a fictionalized portrait of early-'70s glam-rock, Velvet Goldmine opens in the 19th-century Dublin of Oscar Wilde's childhood before moving to a 1984 New York that's not quite the way history recorded it. It's an unconventional beginning for an unconventional film that reveals more about its subject than a straightforward telling could. The plot concerns the efforts of a transplanted British reporter (Christian Bale) to track down the whereabouts of a David Bowie-like rock star (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) 10 years after he faked his assassination on stage in 1974. In the process, Bale interviews those close to Rhys-Meyers, each of whom offers a different narrative of his life. It's a structure that borrows transparently from Citizen Kane, but within the familiar frame is an extremely imaginative and experimental movie. If anything, Velvet Goldmine most closely resembles David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch, which created a drug-haze fantasy world to get at the meaning of William S. Burroughs and the Beats. Here, fictional surrogates for Bowie, Iggy Pop (Ewan McGregor), and others re-enact the glam era, often in the form of extended, music-video-like fantasy sequences that incorporate real songs from the period and convincing new ones by Shudder To Think. All the while, it slowly becomes apparent what the music and the movement—which brought fluid sexuality, camp, and glamour to the streets—meant to Bale growing up. There are moments when Velvet Goldmine threatens to collapse under the weight of writer/director Todd Haynes' (Poison, Safe) ambition. But, sometimes amazingly, it doesn't, becoming in the process one of the year's freshest, most exciting films.