(As a FYI, some of the following links go to sites with Flash and music, so you might need to adjust speaker levels, depending from where you're reading. Other links also go back to some YouTube videos.)
For those unfamiliar with this film, (which has become a cult classic only after a few years as it never really found its audience on its original release), it's a fictionalized story of the early 1970s glam rock scene, and features characters largely lifted from the lives David Bowie, Angie Bowie, and Iggy Pop (among many others). It's a fabulous movie, completely enveloped with some stunning performances: star-making turns from the very gifted Jonathan Rhys Meyers (lately from Showtime®'s "The Tudors") as the Bowie-esque Brian Slade; the artfully restrained Christian Bale as the teenage fan/reporter Arthur Stuart (Bale's best work so far is the highly recommended, but very violent, "American Psycho"); and Ewan McGregor as the careening, out-of-control, and troubled singer Curt Wild (as Iggy Pop). The always simply brilliant Toni Collette serves as the Angie Bowie-like American wife, proving once again she is (one of) the best actor(s) to ever come out from Australia. The dynamic, underappreciated, and scene-stealing Eddie Izzard also appears in a secondary role as Slade's calculating manager. But the music...oh, that glorious 'devil may care' music woven in these scenes...deserves lead mention, too.
"Velvet Goldmine" documents one of those times where the Brit and American music scenes were on different tracks...and to some degree, still continues to be somewhat today...where Brit music can and does include all the elements of theatricality, both on and offstage. The clothes, the makeup, the acceptance of bi- or homo-sexuality with its entertainers compared to those here...all indicative of a much grander plan than just being a singer or being in a band. Our cousins the Brits have always understood that an 'image' to sell was almost as important as the music itself, especially at times when it can be tough to distinguish one act from another. It wasn't just a gig or even a tour, it was a show. The primary goal is quickly distinguished between being a 'star' versus a 'musician', if you will. That's the crux between our two music worlds: while we Yanks appreciate Bowie and the whole scene that followed on his coattails, it was a scene that had to fully germinate elsewhere before coming to America. The dialogue, the 'characters', the makeup, the clothes, and especially the sexuality issues...would not have survived, let alone flourished, in our White Bread Suburban World.
Now, I will admit I missed all of that scene (being just a baby when all of this was happening), but luckily I found the music later on in junior high and high school. In my case, the guides were Brian Eno, Roxy Music, and the wonderful T. Rex...acts which I found by chance after reading some of the then-current faves of the 1980s (before I went metal, I did go through a New Romantic stage) constantly refer to these trendsetters. The David Bowie I knew of then, unfortunately, was way past his Ziggy Stardust character and had moved on to fifth (sixth?) incarnation as a performer and doing songs like "Let's Dance". And, unfortunately, I was slow to learn more about artists from this time: Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, The New York Dolls, and others (not a lot of their material existed in the very rural Midwest in the late 1980s). However, I had found some T. Rex and was already a goner for them: to this day, T-Rex's versions of "20th Century Boy", "Children of the Revolution", and "Bang A Gong (Get It On)" are all-time faves (kudos to the Power Station's cover of the latter, though). And while this may strike me down among you Bowie lovers, I'm not as fond of Bowie's music as I once was...it doesn't seem to hold up as well when you take the 'performing identity' out of the equation. For those of us who never got the chance to see the characters at their height of popularity, it's a bit like realising you've missed a really great party with only the lingering gossip to tease you. The sentimental impact of 'remember when?' is missing. "Velvet Goldmine", no matter how literal it is to Bowie et al or not, gives a wonderful glimpse of that world to those of us who never experienced all the fun.
It's the kind of movie that makes me admit being just a tad bit jealous about missing it all...the spectacle of being someone (or something) completely outlandish and unknown, the swagger of challenging norms of society and getting away with it, the unbridled abandon of just being consumed by a sound and image regardless of what others think of you (Bale's character while dancing is a perfect embodiment of this last one). It's the kind of movie that makes me have faith in imaginative film making...not everything has to be a mindless 'blockbuster'...and in thoughtful, well researched dialogue. It's a definite juggernaut for Rhys Meyers, and is arguably one of the best roles done by McGregor...there was a clear passion, up and down the line, of the cast to get the mannerisms, the egos, the insecurities, the over-indulgences, 'right' (they even did some of their own singing). And it's the kind of movie that leaves me loving the music as much as the film...with songs I cannot get out of my head and will be dancing around to for many days long after.