Leaving soon: ‘Velvet Goldmine’ – David Bowie meets ‘Citizen Kane’ on MUBI

In Velvet Goldmine (1998), filmmaker Todd Haynes reimagines the Glam rock era and the iconic influence of David Bowie through the kaleidoscopic lens of Citizen Kane.

Christian Bale plays Arthur Stuart, a reporter sent to investigate the legend of rock legend and bisexual pop icon Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys-Myers as a not-so-thinly veiled Bowie), who disappeared a decade ago after staging his own mock assassination. But Arthur is flooded with memories of his own adolescence as he interviews Slade’s friends and business associates, peeling back the layers of make-up and spangles that was the model of rebellion for a generation of middle class British kids and discovering a hollow center.

It’s a blast, with bouncy music, flamboyant costumes, a fab sense of period, and a complex narrative interweaving of flashbacks, shifting perspectives, public personas and private personalities with Slade as the film’s slippery Charles Foster Kane. Ewan McGregor almost steals the film as the punk pioneer Curt Wild (equal parts Iggy Pop and Kurt Cobain), the genuine article to Slade’s calculated, coifed image of glitter stardom. 

Haynes’ film lacks nothing in capturing the flamboyance and spectacle of the era with flashy filmmaking and kitchy costumes, and if the plot seems lost in the preening and visual fireworks, perhaps that’s the point: behind the facades and manufactured fronts is nothing but glitter, energy, and a beat.

But it’s also a study in reinvention and the fluid definition of identity and sexuality embraced by the subculture around the music, the first youth movement to openly accept and embrace ideas of bisexuality and homosexuality. 

Toni Collette and Eddie Izzard costar and Janet McTeer narrates.

The costume design by Sandy Powell earned an Oscar nomination and won a BAFTA. Maryse Alberti’s cinematography won a Film Independent Spirit Award and filmmaker Todd Haynes took home the award for best artistic contribution as the Cannes Film Festival.

Rated R

Streams for a limited time on MUBI; leaves at the end of August

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Velvet Goldmine [Blu-ray]
Velvet Goldmine [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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