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Velvet Goldmine - Todd Hayne's 1998 movie about Glam rock in the early seventies premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival on 16 October 1998 and debuted in the US on 6 November 1998. It was released on home video in the US on 11 May 1999. Some critics have praised it, while others have dismissed it.
Haynes first sent his script to Bowie to elicit his co-operation and songs for the movie, but Bowie was reported to have been appalled by the project, telling friends that all his Ziggy Stardust character did was spend his time administering blow-jobs. Originally seven Bowie songs were intended to be in the film before Bowie decided to withhold permission for them to be used (initial press reports alleged that Bowie first rejected the request on the grounds that "seven songs was too many").
Brian Slade / Maxwell Demon - aka "Ziggy Stardust"
Eventually, Bowie refused to allow any of his songs to be used for the film's soundtrack, stating that the film was almost entirely based on his own Ziggy Stardust era - for which he said he will be making his own movie in the future (see press comment below and more detail in this section Ziggy Stardust 2002 project).
It was reported that Hayne's response included asking Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley, original Stooges bassist Ron Asheton, Radiohead and Grant Buffalo, to "write four Ziggy-style songs." The final movie featured 35 songs and did include "My Unclean" (in the movie) written by Ron Asheton and Mark Arm and "The Whole Shebang" (soundtrack) written by Grant Lee Phillips, performed by Grant Lee Buffalo.
The seven Ziggy-era songs
From a film script dated 20th February 1997 - the Bowie songs destined for the movie were as follows: 1) "All The Young Dudes" (this was to have been a key song in the film and would have been used a number of times including the beginning and end of the film - see image below), 2) "Lady Stardust" (which would have been used for the Glastonbury concert scene), 3) "Velvet Goldmine" (which would have appeared directly after the scene where the "Tony De Fries" character challenges the "Kenneth Pitt" character to an arm wrestle for Brian Slade),
Original Velvet Goldmine script page 7
Original Velvet Goldmine script page 70
4) Moonage Daydream (which would have begun after Brian kisses Curt at a press conference - see image above),
Slade sings "Sweet Thing"
5) Sweet Thing (which would have begun towards the end of the film in the 1984 future, with Arthur now a journalist in New York, passing various depressing street scenes), 6) Lets Spend the Night Together, (which would have cut in during the "Sweet Thing" montage, followed by "They said we were to young, our kinda love was no fun" etc. In this scene they would have looked up from the roof and seen a 50's kitsch flying saucer then "but our love comes from above........do it! .....lets make love" etc. Curt then asked Arthur to make a wish and the soundtrack would have returned to "Sweet Thing", performed by Brian on a baroque stage set where he swings on a chandelier (see image above) and finally 7) Lady Grinning Soul (this was intended for the Jack Fairy make-up scene in the toilets at the Sombrero club. Where Brian Slade kisses Jack and steals his emerald pin (originally Oscar Wilde's pin).
Another Bowie/Ziggy-related song that was also replaced was Mick Ronson's "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" (which would have been used in the scene where Brian meets Curt Wild at Max's Kansas City).
The original script notes made the following comments on these songs:
"Songs specified in the script are basically a wish-list for recordings that will be handled one of three ways:
Original recordings used directly, covers of original songs arranged and adapted for the film, and finally, new songs written specifically for the film. Note that whenever a character in the film is singing a song, it will always be a cover, performed by the actor (or his soundalike).
Hence in the film itself "All the Young Dudes", "Lady Stardust", "Moonage Daydream", "Sweet Thing" and "Velvet Goldmine" would all have been cover versions, whereas "Lady Grinning Soul" and Lets Spend the Night together would have been Bowie's original version.
BOWIE CONFIRMS OWN 'ZIGGY'-ERA MOVIE PROJECT
DAVID BOWIE has confirmed he is preparing his own film based on the '70s glam rock period. Dismissing the much-touted forthcoming Velvet Goldmine glam movie as "a trailer" for his project, Bowie has also revealed that he will rework some unreleased 'Ziggy Stardust'-era material for the project. Bowie says he's been working on the idea for the last two years and says that's why he refused to allow any of his music to be used in Todd Haynes film.
"My feeling about it was that it was based fairly substantially on Ziggy Stardust and as I intend to do my own version of that I'd rather not work with a competitive film. "What I've done is complemented the original 'Ziggy Stardust' soundtrack. It's quite exciting in a way because what I've found are bits and pieces of songs that I obviously had written for the project (the original 'Ziggy Stardust' album) but had never finished off. It's almost as though I'll be complementing what's already there with other pieces that were started but not actually finished at the time. So they have an authenticity of the period about them in the style that they're written in but they'll be sort of finished off today. For me it will be an extraordinary thing to see what kind of animal it becomes eventually." - David Bowie (1998)
More detail can be found in this section called Ziggy Stardust 2002 project.
In the meantime here is a compilation of reports and reviews about this movie and Glam.
A USERS GUIDE TO VELVET GOLDMINE by Joshua Clover (Spin Online - AOL)
FABLES OF THE SELF-CONSTRUCTION
Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes's screen kiss to glam rock, opens in the childhood of Oscar Wilde (author, wit, queer theory icon, and conscripted godmother of all that is glam). Before leaping a century forward to swinging London, the movie shows the eight-year-old Oscar announcing his career ambition: "I want to be a pop idol." Oscar Wilde never said that. But David Bowie did, during the graduation ritual for Bromley Polytechnical High School. This was years before the press and the dresses, before makeup and space suits and all that. Years before the rise and fall of glam, the all-too-brief revolution that said not just "be all you can be" but be everything that's ever been, cut up and reconfigured to your own whims, fetishes, and dreams. Glam rock itself occupies less than half a decade of musical history, bridging the collapse of the hippie dream and the furious insurrection of punk.
An elegantly complex, vision-charged film, Velvet Goldmine captures much of the story that was glam, and brings it to an American audience that largely missed the meteoric movement during its first pass. "Glam rock [in America] was nowhere near the teen-driven phenomenon it was in the U.K.," says director Haynes. "I was aware of Bowie, didn't have his records, and was actually rather spooked by those unbelievable images of him on the covers of the records in the record stores and at friend's houses. I sensed it was something I was going to want to know more about, but at that time I knew I wasn't ready." Most Americans weren't. The New York Dolls might've been ultracool, and glam might have influenced heavy hitsters like Kiss, as well as imports Elton John and Queen. But the original glam acts made barely a ripple on the sea of American cheese that was Top 40 radio.
In England, however, glam was a pop culture extravaganza: From 1971 to 1974, such acts as Roxy Music, Slade, Gary Glitter, and the Sweet charged the pop charts with supershiny, gender-bendy electricity. If musical revolutions involve the leap from a sound to a lifestyle, vive la glam. As with every rock revolution worth the vinyl it was pressed in, glam was loud, cheap, and out of control. But it was also literate and witty, a counterculture without being anti-culture. And like nothing that came before, it was freaky. Bowie was the superfreak. Nonetheless, Bowie wasn't the inventor of glam; T. Rex's Marc Bolan had a better claim (yet Bolan's act, which sold an estimated 37 million records in three years, has been all but obliterated from popular consciousness).
Meanwhile, Roxy musicians Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno interwove the ultracool cabaret decadence and wildly androgynous showtime that defined the glam style. Bowie was, quite simply, the genius who arrived to make it all mean something. He was the grand artificer of a movement that celebrated artifice above all. "The genius of glam," says chronicler Barney Hoskyns, "is that it was all about stardom." And Bowie played it to the hilt, helping to popularise the avant-garde and ultimately changing the way people thought about pop music. From the moment Bowie announced to Melody Maker "I'm gay and always have been" (even as he was calling his mum to deny it), he became the force glam rode into the public consciousness. When he invented Ziggy Stardust, the stakes of rock'n'roll as a spectacle of self-creation were raised forever. But it wasn't the space-age end-of-the-world obsessions that were ahead of their time; it was a much deeper idea.
Glam co-opted fashion before fashion could co-opt it, making the idea of "the real" seem ridiculous. And this was way before postmodernism became coffee talk. In a time when half the flicks being made concern the end of '70s musical moments, Velvet Goldmine out-glitters The Last Days of Disco, out-debauches 54, and out-sexes Boogie Nights. And it easily out-outs any of the queer inroads into mainstream cinema. Formally, the movie is a Citizen Kane-style search for identity wrapped around a loopy, love/hate Bowie biopic. But it's most importantly an allegory about inventing yourself and the freedom such artifice has provided for generations of showy outcasts.
For all its historical matchups, Velvet Goldmine isn't merely the life stories of glam, but the Glamorous life as envisioned by a fanboy dreaming his way in. "It takes me into a world," says music supervisor Randall Poster, "I remember imagining as a kid." For the film, Poster copped a squad of supermod glitterati who must've been similarly magnetized as kids: Radiohead's Thom Yorke and ex-Suede guitar hero Bernard Butler, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley, and indie icon Mike Watt (to name just a few).
But Bowie, whom Haynes calls the film's "structuring absence," withheld the rights to his songs. How do you make a Bowie movie without Bowie songs? "I sat down with 'All The Young Dudes,'" says Craig Wedren of Shudder to Think (who penned the gem "Ballad of Maxwell Demon"). "It's that sort of achy-breaky, glammy thing, in four-piece mode, and sexy. And then you put space aliens in it." There's no doubt that glam is racing back into vogue (a trend Velvet Goldmine is sure to accelerate). But it's been there all along. It was there when Queen chose opera and Malcolm McLaren chose wardrobes; it was still there when Madonna and Prince made themselves up out of nothing and rags. It's in the kiss-my-glitz excess of Puffy Combs and, perhaps most of all, the calculated androgyny of Marilyn Manson's new look. The resurgence of end-of-the-century decadence, over-the-top theatricality, and cabaret culture--each are branches on the glam family tree. Even hip-hopper Foxy Brown (of the lipstick so glam it's absurd) busts with the word "glamalicious" just to endorse some beverage or another.
How is it that the ghosts of glam have come to speak so alluringly today? Wilde tried to answer that question more than a century ago: "Every great century that produces art is, so far, an artificial century, and the work that seems the most natural and simple of its time is always the result of the most self-conscious effort." For everyone exhausted by keeping it real, glam turns the other direction and goes way beyond fake. Though glam ideas date back to previous centuries, it was made for modern filmistry: Glam is about image assembly, and so are movies. If glam reaches past boundaries of time, place, class, and gender to cobble together a shimmering performance of one's own life, Velvet Goldmine itself borrows bits and pieces of film, literature, philosophy, and musical history. Though the characters don't shine as brightly as the originals and the plot gets overly twisty, the film is still a glittery, ambitious, and lush dream-so-real. Director Haynes imagines that the movie can be a participatory experience, taking from glam "the idea that you could dress up and become whatever you wanted. You took an active, creative role in the subtext." Toward that end, here's a Spin user's guide to help unfold the many layers of Velvet Goldmine and to revisit the fleeting historical moment it celebrates.
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---This page last modified: 13 Oct 2002---