Back in the 1970's, glam rock superstar Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) disappeared after setting up his own onstage assassination. So where is he now, ten years later? A journalist, Arthur (Christian Bale), sets out to track him down.
Is it true that all actors want to be rock stars and all rock stars want to be actors? Todd Haynes wrote and directed this recreation of the glam rock scene, with Rhys-Meyers playing someone who isn't David Bowie (but he is really) and Ewan McGregor playing someone who isn't Iggy Pop (but he is really) and Toni Collette playing someone who isn't Angie Bowie (but - well, you get the idea).
Mr Bowie wouldn't allow his songs to be used on the soundtrack (he said he was planning his own film), so what you get are originals from the era by the likes of Roxy Music, T-Rex and Lou Reed and cover versions of relevant songs (Placebo turn up to do their rendition of "Twentieth Century Boy" for example). This adds to the artificiality of the film, in a funny, parallel universe kind of way.
Haynes is keen to stress the strong gay influence in pop culture, of which glam rock, he supposes here, was its apex, with its overt bisexuality. Although he tends to ignore that not every glam act was gay - it takes more than silver platform boots to be that. Oscar Wilde receives an unexpected tribute, arriving from the skies in a flying saucer, his brooch being passed from one true believer to another throughout the film.
While Velvet Goldmine is flamboyant, it takes itself too seriously to be truly camp. And it's too eager to rely on characters spouting pithy remarks and Meyers posing around in musical numbers for its moments of profundity, constantly running the risk of looking affected and silly. Still, there is some humour and self-awareness, such as the scene where Brian announces on TV that everyone is bisexual, whereupon Arthur turns to gauge the reaction of his seriously heterosexual parents.
Rhys Meyers and McGregor relish their rock star roles, but Bale comes across as dull - was this was to stress the difference between mundane real life and the high life Arthur worships, or is Bale miscast? In the end, Velvet Goldmine is just the traditional story of sex, drugs and rock and roll, halfway between "there's no business like show business" and "it's a shit business", but dressed up in enough glitter and sequins to make for attractive viewing. Plus: is that a reference to The Karen Carpenter Story in there?
Intriguing American arthouse writer-director whose student film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story created a big fuss, and is still banned to this day. The episodic Poison was a disappointing follow up, but Safe was heralded as a triumph. His document of glam rock, Velvet Goldmine, wasn't as well received, however Far From Heaven, a 1950's-set melodrama, was Oscar-nominated, as was the similarly-set romance Carol. In between those were an offbeat take on Bob Dylan, I'm Not There, and a miniseries of Mildred Pierce.