It’s easy to describe what writer- director Todd Haynes does in Velvet Goldmine as a swooningly sexy tribute to the rude boys in mascara and heels who detonated the musical and sexual explosion of Seventies glam rock.
It’s easy to see Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ fictional Brian Slade as the essence of Bowie glitter — right down to his Ziggy Stardust alter ego, here called Maxwell Demon, whose murder he fakes onstage. Likewise, Ewan McGregor gives Curt Wild the suck-my-cock swagger of the Iggy Pop who transfixed Bowie. Rhys Meyers and McGregor throw themselves into the makeup, the clothes, the drugs, the bi sex and the blazing music with a dynamism that is never less than mesmeric.
It finding the image that might help to define the essence of the film — that’s hard. Let’s try this one: It’s a flashback to British journalist Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) as a boy, locked in his room and jerking off while staring at an LP cover featuring an androgynous pop icon. The moment is erotic, squalid, suffused with longing and totally appropriate. What else could a fan do when faced with a cultural movement that played seductive games with gender and identity? Failing all else, you fuck your way in.
Haynes creates Velvet Goldmine from the perspective of that fan, with a masturbatory fervor that demands dead-on details (“Weird Scenes From the Velvet Goldmine,” Page 64). He fashions a structure out of Citizen Kane: Arthur, working for an American tabloid in 1984, tries to deconstruct Slade by interviewing his ex-wife (Toni Colette), his ex-manager (Eddie Izzard) and even Curt Wild. The plot only slows a film that works best as a feast of sight and sound. Velvet Goldmine locates its Rosebud in that album cover Arthur tried to ravish alone in his room. In re-creating an era as a gorgeous carnal dream, Haynes celebrates the art of the possible.