In 1984, British journalist Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) investigates the rise and fall of his childhood hero, 1970s glam superstar Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), whose sexual and creative relationship with rebellious American singer Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor) had a big influence on his career. In order to escape his stage persona, Slade faked his own death onstage, which marked the end of his stardom as fans eventually discovered the plot.
Velvet Goldmine is an elusive film in many ways, partly because of the layers that Haynes has included in the structure.... there's a reference at the beginning of the film to Oscar Wilde, we see Arthur Stuart as an insecure, inhibited young man, inheriting Wilde's yearning for the flamboyant, we understand Arthur's need to connect with Slade. And yet it seems that many of the events are decoys to a true understanding of what it's all about. What is unmistakable is the rejoicing and complete sympathy for young people's love of the other, their need to be different.
But there's a sadness at the heart of the film, and whether it's because glam rock went or because it had to go, I'm not sure. What is certain about the film is Toni Collette's terrific performance as Mandy - she manages to be credible as the young superficial enthusiast of the seventies and as the more mature, more resigned - there's that word again - woman of the eighties. Jonathan Rhys Meyers captures an elusive Bowie-like quality in his role and Ewan McGregor, with a slightly wobbly American accent combines Lou Reed and Iggy Pop with a touch of Kurt Cobain. There's no doubting Todd Haynes abilities as a filmmaker and yet Velvet Goldmine isn't quite the film you feel it could have been had it remained more focused on the story it had to tell.