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Film / Velvet Goldmine

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Slade and Wild in two of their tamer costume choices.

A 1998 film by Todd Haynes about a bisexual pop star and his meteoric rise to fame during the Glam Rock movement of the 1970s. It's absolutely not about David Bowie. The film centers on Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), whose outer-space alter ego, Maxwell Demon, is in no way Ziggy Stardust. His band, the Venus in Furs, are most definitely not the Spiders from Mars. Throughout his life, Slade falls in love with a series of people who in no way resemble Angie Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Mick Jagger or Brian Eno.

Years later, a journalist named Arthur Stewart (Christian Bale) is researching the disappearance of Slade after a catastrophic failure of a publicity stunt at a concert. Apparently fans aren't forgiving if you fake your own death. So Slade fell into alcohol, drugs, and depression and dropped out of sight completely. Arthur starts by interviewing Slade's former friends and lovers, while also musing on his own youth and the impact of the glam rock scene on his life and sexual identity. The film is thus told in a series of flashbacks, mostly linearly, leading up to Slade's disappearance.

Contrary to popular belief, the film was not originally intended to be explicitly about David Bowie. Bowie's involvement with the project was based on whether or not his songs would be used, which ultimately didn't happen because he disliked the script.

The movie provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: The only time anyone's parents get any lines in the movie, it's Arthur's father yelling at him (for masturbating to a picture of Brian and Curt kissing.). Curt's parents are the most obviously abusive, sending him for electric-shock treatment after he had sex with (or was abused by) his older brother.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: Happens to Slade once he makes it big. And he can't let fame go even after his fans have turned on him, leading to some of the worst of his troubles.
  • Advertised Extra: Although he's not really billed, Brian Molko's face shows up prominently on the DVD cover. The members of Placebo only have a small cameo and a few lines, but it seems like the DVD distributors knew their audience.
  • Agent Peacock: Brian Slade. He's not bisexual, he's biwinning. His androgynous sex appeal is what kick starts his career as a rockstar.
  • All Guys Want Bad Boys: Slade's attraction to Wild.
  • Ambiguous Gender: Jack Fairy dresses very androgynously, usually wearing what might be described as women's clothing that reveals his bare chest. The overall look is someone who is neither male nor female.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: A Doorstop Baby, apparently delivered by alien spaceship is...Oscar Wilde. (It could make The Star-Child semi-autobiographic...)
  • Bittersweet Ending: Brian will reinvent himself as the boringly mainstream Tommy Stone; glam-rock is effectively dead; Mandy will become the bitter character that we see in 1984, and the world will become greyer and more, for want of a better word, heteronormative. But the sense of freedom and joy and potential will live in on the memories of the people who lived through it.
    Fade away never... fade away never... fade away never...
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Same-sex example. Curt Wilde allegedly had an incestuous relationship with his older brother when he was 13. His parents had Wilde start shock treatments to "fry the fairy clean out of him".
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Curt Wild ends up shagging Arthur on a rooftop, and doesn't remember him ten years later. Or maybe he does...
  • Careful with That Axe: True to his basis Iggy Pop's vocal stylings, Curt Wild at the beginning of his performance of "T.V. Eye". Even more so on the soundtrack version, where his screams are simultaneously those of a man being burned alive and having the greatest sex of his life.
  • Cast as a Mask: Brian Slade reinvents himself as a music star by the name of Tommy Stone; a different actor is used to play Tommy Stone in order to hide the surprise.
  • Cast Full of Gay: Or Bi, really.
  • Cast Full of Pretty Boys: A very young Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and still young Ewan McGregor and Christian Bale (clad in glitter, makeup and feathers, of course).
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: This happens to Arthur, whose father finds him masturbating over a picture of two men kissing (and promptly kicks him out of the house). It's heart-wrenching.
  • Closet Key: Arthur's is Slade.
  • Composite Character:
    • Curt Wild is mainly supposed to be an expy of Iggy Pop. A lot of the incidents involving him are based on other real-life figures, such as Mick Ronson, Lou Reed, and Mick Jagger.
    • Brian Slade, while most ostensibly based on David Bowie bears definite traces of Brian Eno, Marc Bolan and Jobriath.
  • Cure Your Gays: Curt Wild is given shock treatments by his parents to cure him (based on the Real Life experiences of Lou Reed).
    Cecil: The doctors said the treatment would "fry the fairy clean out of him". But all it did was make him bonkers — every time he heard an electric guitar.
  • The Dandy: Brian Slade
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • The whole movie for David Bowie's career. In particular, Slade's Fake Assassination mirrors an infamous announcement by Bowie at the end of the supporting tour for Aladdin Sane where he announced the breakup of the Spiders from Mars in a way that led people to believe that he himself was retiring (though Bowie's career continued for decades after the real-life incident; he'd completed the supporting tour for Earthling just six months before the film came out).
    • One scene in which Slade, while on stage, gets down on his knees and goes after a bandmate's guitar in a way simulating oral sex. Which was something the real Bowie used to do onstage with Mick Ronson.
    • In Curt Wild's first appearance, he holds a bottle of glitter in front of his crotch and vigorously shakes it into the audience, as if ejaculating on them.
  • Dystopia: You can read the current time (the year 1984, no less), from where the frame story takes place, as a super conservative dystopia front-headed by the mysterious President Reynolds. Certainly a great deal of the stranger scenes make sense with the dystopian backdrop.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: In addition to his wife and devoted female assistant, Brian Slade/Maxwell Demon insinuates his way into the hearts (and in some cases beds) of his manager Cecil, fellow rocker Curt, groupie-wannabe Arthur, and briefly his stylistic progenitor Jack Fairy. He breaks them all. Jonathan Rhys Meyers was once named the "Hottest Straight Guy We Wish Was Gay" by OUT Magazine.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Stated basically word-for-word by both Wild and Slade in interviews. Most of the characters seem to be bi, though Arthur doesn't show any interest in women.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: The film loves its glitter — which is appropriate as it's about a glam Pretty Boy rock star.
  • Fake Assassination: Brian Slade attempts this as a publicity stunt, hiring someone to "shoot" him in the middle of a concert. However, it backfires as the public learns the shooting was faked, killing his career and causing him to be come a recluse.
  • Fake Band: Malcolm from the band "The Flaming Creatures" is Brian Molko. Molko's bandmates Stefan Olsdal and Steve Hewitt also appear as band members.
  • Fake-Out Opening:The first part opens with a UFO streaking across the sky. Then it cuts to the childhood years of Oscar Wilde.
  • Faking the Dead: What ultimately does Slade in. The amount of backlash he receives for pretending to be shot dead on-stage as a publicity stunt ends up destroying his career and forcing him to go into hiding. Additionally, it's revealed near the end that Arthur was at the concert where this happened and that it was this event that lead to his obsessive search for Slade in the first place, essentially making this trope the driving force of the entire film.
  • Fluffy Fashion Feathers: Brian Slade wears several enormous pink feather boas, and a peacock-like fanned collar of white egret feathers over the course of the film.
  • Forced Out of the Closet: Arthur with his parents sort of.
  • Framing Device: Slade's life story is told though Arthur's interviews, in a manner reminiscent of Citizen Kane.
  • Gayngst: Arthur had some as a kid before coming out. Not that it really goes smoothly for Arthur after that point, either.
  • Groupie: Arthur is a male example. In his youth he's an ardent fan of Venus in Furs and devotes his life to following them on tour for a time. He even ends up sleeping with Curt Wild, the guitarist.
  • Hookers and Blow: When Slade's career is on the skids, he falls into total depravity, and we see him sprawled half-naked in bed with a mountain of cocaine beside him. Later, when Mandy is trying to get him to sign their divorce papers, we see Brian snorting a line of coke from the naked buttocks of a semi-conscious black woman in a big white wig. (Of course, given that Brian seems to be able to get anyone he meets to have sex with literally anyone, she might not be a hooker, just someone in his entourage.)
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Slade before he gets famous. When he sees Wild drop trou at a show and moon the crowd, he laments how he wished he'd thought of it first.
  • Impractically Fancy Outfit: All of Slade's costumes, especially his Maxwell Demon ones. Come on, 4" platform boots plus huge wings and you want this guy to sing and dance on stage?!? Really?
  • In Love with Love: Brian Slade is in love not with Curt Wild, but the "idea of Curt Wild".
  • Lampshade Hanging: See below: Slade's immediate infatuation with Wild is accompanied with glowing hearts, but more to the point, his manager's acceptance of this unsigned ex-junkie is accompanied with glowing money signs. Oh, we get it! He can sell them in a two-pack! Moving on...
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Early on in his career, Slade had flowing, shoulder-length hair, and as mentioned elsewhere, was more beautiful than his wife. Wild also fits this trope.
  • Love at First Sight: Both of Slade's serious relationships start this way.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Brian Slade is sort-of in love with Curt Wild, but married to Mandy. Wild definitely loves Slade, but feels jilted by him, so hooks up with other guys including fan Arthur Stuart. Stuart is/was a total fanboy for Slade. And that's just scratching the surface.
  • Magical Accessory: Oscar Wilde's brooch, stolen from Jack by Slade, then passed on from Curt to Arthur at the end. May be a real alien artifact that makes the bearer a star, may be symbolic, YMMV.
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: How Tommy Stone was created, presumably.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Thank you, Mr Wild (but not Mr Wilde).
  • Make Up or Break Up: Wild/Slade, Slade/Mandy — They break up.
  • Meaningful Name: Curt Wild. And the Rats. And it's Jack Fairy who begins the bisexual glam rock movement. And how the Maxwell Demon tour is Slade's demise. And how everyone has a popstar name but Arthur and Mandy, essentially marking them out as Normal McNormalsons.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Both in-universe and out- Curt Wild and Brian Slade's stage acts involve dancing provocatively in tight-fitting or revealing clothing, and Curt Wild is practically a Walking Shirtless Scene. As with real life glam rockers, the sexiness was part of their appeal.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: A downplayed example in Jack Fairy, who teenage fans sometimes recognise in the street, but they never regard him as the visionary pioneer that the other characters regard him as.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Slade is Bowie, Curt Wild is Iggy Pop (with a dash of Mick Jagger and Lou Reed), Jack Fairy is Brian Eno and Marc Bolan, and The Venus in Furs are The Spiders From Mars.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping:
    • Ewan McGregor plays a No Celebrities Were Harmed-version of Iggy Pop / Lou Reed / Mick Jagger. Apparently people from Michigan have the tendency to sound like Sean Connery.
    • In flashbacks, Mandy's accent slips when she's upset; in scenes taking place in the present, she doesn't bother. It's particularly impressive given Toni Collette is Australian, therefore neither of the accents she veers between are her own. This is actually a positively uncanny imitation of Angela Bowie, who is American but either absorbed or intentionally adopted a faux-British accent during her then-husband's glam rock days. It's especially prominent in the opening to Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture, for example, when she comes backstage to chat with the band.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Brian Slade turns up to a concert in a "disguise" consisting of a large hat and coat. Although his ex-wife reveals that she recognised him, and public opinion towards him had already soured somewhat, it seems a bit odd that no one bats an eyelid at his appearance, given that he is still very famous, and very poorly disguised.
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Innocent new wardrobe mistress Shannon is led by Jerry De Vine into a distinctly uninhibited party of stars and crew, all laying about on floor cushions.
  • Pretty Boy: Brian Slade fits this trope rather well, as one might reasonably expect from a nineteen-year-old Jonathan Rhys Meyers in make-up...He manages to be more delicate and prettier that his own wife (who is not bad-looking or particularly butch.)
  • Pretty in Mink: Notably, it's the guys wearing the furs most of the time.
  • Performance Artist: Slade and Wild, along with Jack Fairy.
  • Pride Before a Fall: Happens to Slade, who thinks himself infallible.
  • Queer Flowers: This movie is about 1970s glam-rock figures and heavily uses green carnation symbolism for gay or bisexual men.
  • The Quiet One: Brian Slade, despite being the main character and basically the subject of the movie, has surprisingly sparse dialogue throughout. When he does talk, he's almost always talking in riddles or quoting Oscar Wilde. Also Jack Fairy, who doesn't say a word until the Death of Glitter concert.
  • Roman à Clef: Interesting in that it is two Roman a clef put together: that of David Bowie/the emergent glam rock scene as well as Citizen Kane (a Roman a clef itself), with bits of Oscar Wilde thrown in.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: What Arthur does after his parents find out he's not straight in...shall we say no uncertain way.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Slade is increasing overwhelmed by his own image, and drawn into a web of sex and drugs that coincides with the end of his career. Also implied to have happened to Curt Wild in the past- when Brian Slade finally meets him, he's addicted to heroin and can barely do anything. He gets better.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Arthur interviews Brian's former manager, ex-wife and eventually his artistic collaborator and lover, only to come up empty. There are hints that he resurfaced as a different pop star but nothing is confirmed. And then there's the bizarre and inexplicable implications that Oscar Wilde was an alien.
  • Shout-Out: So. Many. Shout outs.
    • The Venus in Furs, while sounding a lot like Bowie's band from his Ziggy days, is actually based on a song by The Velvet Underground (which is in turn based on a novel of the same name).
    • Wild's story of how he was caught flagrante with his older brother, and his psychiatric treatment are this to Lou Reed.
    • Velvet Goldmine was a Bowie song.
    • Brian Slade is an allusion to the glam rock band Slade.
    • Brian Eno's first band was Maxwell Demon which in turn is a nod to Maxwell's Demon, a thought experiment.
    • The Rats, Wild's band, is a reference to Pop's The Stooges. Wild's dancing and onstage nudity are directly based on Iggy Pop.
    • The way Mandy finds Slade and Wild in bed together is supposed to be a reference to Angela Bowie finding her husband and Mick Jagger together.
    • Half the quotes in the movie are directly from said people, eg, what Mandy says re: Wild and Slade together in bed is a direct quote from Angie; Slade's first question to Mandy is something Bowie said; and everything that sounds just a little apropos of nothing is probably an Oscar Wilde quote or paraphrase.
    • The structure of the story, as well as some direct shots, are straight from Citizen Kane.
    • The opening shot, with a group of teenagers excitedly running towards the camera, over the opening titles, to the tune of Eno's "Needles in the Camel's Eye", is an obvious reference to the opening shot of A Hard Day's Night.
  • Sidelong Glance Biopic: Depending on how fictionalized you consider it to be.
  • Single Tear: The stone-cold pretty boy Brian Slade sheds one single tear after breaking up with his boyfriend Curt Wild at the end of his performance of "Bitter-Sweet".
  • Staged Shooting: The assassination of Brian Slade at the beginning of the movie turns out to be just one of Slade's publicity stunts. It is not well-received.
  • Titled After the Song: A Bowie song, of course. They would have used the song, too, if Bowie had given permission.
  • Wingding Eyes: When Slade and Wild sign up to work together, Slade's eyes fill with hearts showing his immediate infatuation. Their manager's eyes light up with dollar signs.