“Childhood, adults always say, is
the happiest time in life. But as long as he could remember Jack Fairy knew
better. Until one mysterious day he discovered that somewhere there were others
quite like him, singled out for a great gift. And one day the whole stinking
world would be theirs.”
One sunny day, thirteen years ago,
I decided to play hooky from film school to catch Todd Haynes’ exploration of
the brief if fabulous history of the glam-rock revolution. I slipped into the
Variety Club screening room on Market Street somewhere in the middle of the
glorious muddle that is Velvet Goldmine.
With a lovely mythical prologue
that traces glam back to the birth of Oscar Wilde, Haynes then flashes ahead to
late sixties/early seventies when British pop fans – raised on a weird macho
rock theology – were suddenly confronted with defiantly fey lads who could not
only sing but had a taste for glitter and lipstick and who indulged themselves
in acts that looked revoltingly carnal.
Employing a drop dead gorgeous
Anglo/Irish/ Scottish/Aussie cast – reaching the first peak of their talent and
ability to nakedly frolic about – Haynes reconstructed the myths surrounding
David Bowie and friends. Jonathan Rhys Meyers was cast as the bi-sexual shit
disturber Brian Slade, Ewan McGregor as his sometimes rival, sometimes lover
and band mate, Curt Wild and newly minted Oscar winner Christian Bale plays a
doppelganger like bifurcation as Arthur Stuart, a onetime glam smitten
adolescent who grows up to be a tabloid reporter investigating the mysterious
disappearance of his old pop idol Brian Slade.
Stuart’s sleuthing – a distinct nod
to Citizen Kane – takes place against one of the most raging homoerotic
subtexts ever created for the screen, with a glam-rock soundtrack, performed by
the pretty boy actors. Be sure to see it from the beginning and you will
experience one of the all-time great rock adventures.
Recently Velvet Goldmine writer/director
Todd Haynes recalled the joys of working with his vibrant young cast,
especially his Bowie: Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ astonishing turn as glitter boy
Brain Slade. I recalled “Johnny’s” trilogy of rock star roles for Haynes, Ang
Lee and for CBS-TV’s Elvis Presley docudrama.
David Lamble: I love Johnny in Ang Lee’s Ride With
the Devil as the prototype gunslinger Pitt Mackeson. Lee employs Johnny’s
Pitt, the way you use him in Velvet Goldmine, as a rock star. Talk about
obtaining Johnny for Velvet Goldmine. He carries some baggage but he’s
Haynes: He is brilliant – I love Johnny. I worked
with him when he was nineteen-years-old and he was coming out of a pretty
unstable upbringing. I gained such deep regard for him as a young man and the
way he managed – it was worse than we were even led to believe: his relation
with his mom was not a stable emergence. He was very talented but he was very
unsure – he was a kid and we were throwing him into this crazy world. He had
been around gay men and he was comfortable – he was skinny and beautiful and
all that and also there was real ambivalence as well and I think that
ultimately deepened the performance. But he was just a lovely guy – insanely
gifted because he could sing like nobody else: he had a gorgeous singing voice,
And then he and Toni Collette were sort of together for a year after sort of
playing Bowie and Angie in their relationship, but it was touching. We were
just talking about Cannes the other day – our Velvet Goldmine party at
Cannes was one of the legendary ones.
Lamble: You take Johnny’s Elvis, his Pitt and Velvet
Goldmine are like an astonishing trilogy of performances – all like rock
stars and for this Irish kid to nail them, barely out of his teens, is amazing.
Haynes: I adored working with Christian Bale, too –
he played the sort of straight man in that gay movie but the person who sort of
carried you through the story, the person you identified with – he’s such a
devoted performer. I’m so proud of him this year (his Oscar for The Fighter)
for what he does in a vehicle that gave him so much attention.