Journal scribblings: Velvet Goldmine (1998)

“To be a fan is to know that loving trumps being beloved.”

–  Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein, page 3

The perfect film, album, or personality coming along at the right time can indeed have a magic effect. It transports and heals, makes the world feel right, or uncovers a world that does feel right. Todd Haynes’s often overlooked Velvet Goldmine is a tribute to being a fan, a state that is nearly synonymous with adolescence, yet one that isn’t treated with much respect. The fan is a person looked upon with mockery, an obsessive figure to deride. But in Haynes’s view, through glam rock era London teenager of Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale), being a fan is a process of identification, where a lost person can first see them self in the world. Here, it’s Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a Bowie-esque enigma of an artist with an anamorphic identity who killed himself on stage in 1974. In a dystopian 1984, Stuart is a journalist in New York tasked with uncovering the myth surrounding Slade. Being a fan is all about mythology, after all, with each one creating a personal image of the person to suit them, finding how they relate the most. But Slade is indeed a myth in himself, a blank canvas able to be stripped and repainted at a moment’s notice. It’s a portrait of influence and identity, and Haynes cobbles from a variety of influences (it’s indeed a film fan’s film), including borrowing the flashback-heavy structure from Citizen Kane and featuring a credits scene that feels purely like a remake of A Hard Day’s Night ten years down the road, a gang of London teenagers excitedly chasing after their idols. Here, the act of being a fan is fleeting – the craze is finite, with young adherents soon finding their place in the world and moving on. It may be a passing fascination, but the effect it leaves on one’s life is undoubtable. In the film, Stuart remembers seeing Slade on the television as a teenager, frankly talking about his ways of self-expression with an air of slick self-confidence. He watches intently, you see a twinkle in his eyes, before he declares to his parents that Slade is him. It’s a moment of identification, a rare moment of belonging. It’s a moment that will wax and wane in memory as life passes by, but when it is remembered, it’ll feel like home.

Rating: 4/5

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