Film review: 'Velvet Goldmine'

Film review: 'Velvet Goldmine'
There's nothing safe about Todd Haynes' ambitious, sensual and nostalgic musical romance "Velvet Goldmine", which divided critics at Cannes but won the filmmaker a special prize from the jury for best artistic contribution.

An upcoming Miramax release, "Goldmine" may not live up to its name at the boxoffice, but Haynes' sumptuously glamorous style, a glittery cast and super soundtrack will lure hip crowds in major markets and ensure a strong post-theatrical performance.

Set in the sex-and-drugs London music scene of the 1970s, evoking David Bowie, Brian Eno and other glam rockers, "Goldmine" is the story of fictional Brian Slade Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who fakes an on-stage shooting at the height of his career and disappears from sight when the hoax is revealed and his fans turn against him.

Ten years later, former fan and journalist Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) goes searching for Slade. In the process, he revisits his idol's rise and fall through interviews with Slade's former lover, influential American star Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor), and former wife, Mandy (Toni Collette).

Haynes freely admits that "Citizen Kane" is the inspiration for the film's complex structure and occasional razzle-dazzle sequences. Indeed, Orson Welles' 1941 masterpiece is visually referenced in several scenes and individual shots, but there's one giant difference between the two challenging films from vastly different decades.

Welles effortlessly draws one into the still-relevant, decades-spanning mystery of a wealthy tycoon and makes one care about the diverse cast of characters, while Haynes finds little resonance beyond gloomy reflections about the dangers of too much freedom. In the most important aspect of a work of art that wants to elucidate and entertain -- keeping one's attention from straying when the bisexual, drug-taking leads are colorful but a little distant -- Haynes is only moderately successful.

While the grand design of the film will not work for all viewers, there are too many standout moments to call the work a disappointment. After the brilliant "Safe", Haynes can be forgiven trying to push the envelope of narrative filmmaking on a slightly bigger scale, and he often succeeds.

Rhys Myers and McGregor blaze across the screen with great fury in fabulous makeup and costumes, while Collette is a crucial presence in the two-hour film's winding second half. These three, along with Bale to a lesser degree, transform from bright creatures of the night to fallen angels, with an ironic twist at the end that underscores the eerily totalitarian "present day" setting in 1984.

The film's visual riffs are seductive, with robust cinematography by Maryse Alberti and splashy production design by Christopher Hobbs. The many songs on the soundtrack, including several penned by Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry, and on-screen performances by the likes of Brian Molko, Anthony Langdon, Steve Hewitt and Donna Matthews threaten to turn the movie into one long music video, but Haynes knows how to explore the souls of his characters as well as their revolutionary exteriors.

VELVET GOLDMINE

Miramax Films

A Zenith Prods./Killer Films production

in association with Single Cell Pictures

for Channel 4 Films, Goldwyn Films,

Miramax Films and Zenith Prods.

Writer-director: Todd Haynes

Producer: Christine Vachon

Executive producers: Scott Meek,

Michael Stipe, Sandy Stern

Director of photography: Maryse Alberti

Production designer: Christopher Hobbs

Editor: James Lyons

Costume designer: Sandy Powell

Hair and make-up designer: Peter King

Music: Carter Burwell

Casting: Susie Figgis, Laura Rosenthal

Color/stereo

Cast:

Curt Wild: Ewan McGregor

Brian Slade: Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Mandy Slade: Toni Collette

Arthur Stuart: Christian Bale

Jerry Divine: Eddie Izzard

Running time -- 123 minutes

No MPAA rating

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