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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.). Kurt'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.
  • All Guys Want Bad Boys: Slade's attraction to Wild.
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  • 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: Oscar Wilde was an orphan from the stars...right.
  • 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...
  • Cast Full of Gay: Or Bi, really.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: And it is as far from funny as one of these moments is possible to be.
  • Closet Key: Slade's is Wild; Arthur's is Slade
  • Costume Porn
  • Cure Your Gays: Poor Curt Wild, who was sent to electroshock therapy to cure him after being caught being molested by his brother.
  • The Dandy: Brian Slade
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • The whole movie for David Bowie's career.
    • 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, 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.
    • The present day does take place in 1984.
  • Everybody Smokes
  • 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
  • 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: A UFO? In a movie about glam rockers? Really? (Though considering the motif of aliens in actual glam rock, it's really not that surprising.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 bare buttocks of a semi-conscious black woman in a big white wig.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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:
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Wild and Slade get together at a post-show party that has pretty much every character naked in a room on top of each other.
  • Pretty Boy: Brian Slade, who manages to be more delicately pretty that his own wife (who is not bad-looking or particularly butch) & Curt Wild fit this trope perfectly.
  • 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.
  • Roman à Clef
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Sidelong Glance Biopic: Depending on how fictionalized you consider it to be.
  • 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.


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