Christa’s pick this week continues the Ewan McGregor/Hellraiser takeover. I’m really happy her pick was Velvet Goldmine, which has been on my list for a while now, but I hadn’t watched for whatever reason. As it turns out, our film works quite nicely with Hellraiser, as our lead protagonists are Demon/Wilde. That‘s a band name.
Where to Watch:
A David Bowie-esque pop star rises and falls in the 1970s music scene, complete with glitter, nudity, and an impeccable wardrobe.
The Uncondensed Version:
You know this film is going to be a bit on the pretentious side when it starts out with a line like “Histories, like ancient ruins, are the fictions of empires.” …Are ancient ruins fictions? Are they??? I know I’m getting way too literal with that line, but…Stonehenge. Easter Island. The Pyramids. THEY’RE RIGHT FUCKING THERE. …Fictions? I could go on.
It’s also clear early on that it’s going to be insane. The opening scene involves a baby left on a doorstep in Victorian London…seemingly by a UFO? (We get confirmation later that it really was a UFO.) This baby is Jack Fairy, destined for greatness as evidenced by (a) the whole UFO thing, (b) his magical shiny brooch, (c) his dream of becoming a pop idol, and (d) rather impressively using his own blood as lipstick. Flash forward 100 years to the 1970s…
Brian Slade, aka Maxwell Demon, is the biggest pop star in the world. He is more than a bit reminiscent of David Bowie re: individuality, costume design, sexual ambiguity, and general air of coolness. All of this success is cut tragically short when Brian is shot onstage. Or is it??? As we find out less than 10 minutes later, Brian is not dead—the entire assassination was a publicity stunt. However, Brian’s career is never the same again, and he fades from the limelight.
This begs the question of what happened to Brian and what led to his sudden decline. Cue Arthur, played by a suuuuuuuper young Christian Bale (but everyone looks super young in this film), journalist and former Maxwell Demon/Curt Wilde (Ewan!) superfan.
Inevitably, we must go back to go forward. Arthur manages to track down Brian’s first manager, who discovered Brian singing in a bar. Brian would perform while wearing a dress and sporting really well-kept flowing blonde hair. There were very few fans of his performances besides his wife, Mandy (Toni Collette!). With the help of his manager (whose name I completely forget), Brian starts to gain some recognition.
Around this time, he sees American rocker Curt Wilde perform—he’s a bit more on the edgy/punk spectrum, though he also really appreciates glitter. He’s apparently the Iggy Pop of this film. Curt had a rough childhood in which he was subjected to shock therapy after an encounter with his brother, which is supposedly the explanation for his extreme behavior every time he hears an electric guitar. Brian is super into Curt’s performance, which involves him pouring glitter over himself, flipping the bird to haters, and getting completely naked. Camera does not shy away from this scene at all. AT ALL.
Anyway, as Brian becomes increasingly successful, he gets a sleazy new manager in the form of Eddie Izzard. Brian is overexposed in the UK but incredibly popular; as such, Eddie (forget his character’s name) decides they should make the jump across the pond. Brian seems cool with this mostly because it’s an opportunity to fuck be formally introduced to Curt Wilde.
Upon their introduction, Brian immediately proposes a collaboration. Which is only like 75% about getting wild with Wilde (sorry, I’m done).
So Brian and Curt are really great together onstage, and offstage they are H-O-T. Actually, they’re hot onstage too, though they seem a bit surprised when the press catches on to the nature of their relationship? This would be a bit more understandable if Brian didn’t basically give Curt a blowjob on stage. Either way, the press coverage, pressure from Eddie Izzard, and clashing work styles all combine to tear Brian and Curt apart.
This leads to Brian’s fake assassination, drug abuse, divorce, and overall downward spiral. Mandy and Curt still care about Brian, which is quite heartbreaking. Mandy seems to be sort of a psychic who hangs around bars, and Curt spends quite a lot of his free time looking moody at concerts and drinking.
…Which brings us to the present, and we find out that what happened to Brian is a bit disappointing and completely unrealistic.
Oh, we do also get young Christian Bale’s story interwoven in this, and what an inspiration Brian and Curt were to him. Arthur was growing up in the closet at the time, jacking off to pictures of Brian and Curt…until his parents caught him in the act. Luckily, he escaped to London, then New York, became a hard-hitting journalist, and gave zero fucks. I mean, sort of. Not going to lie, rock star storyline > journalist storyline. ALWAYS.
4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
Sometimes it gets a bit pretentious, and I feel this would have been more fun before the world was post-Bowie. Overall, I can’t complain—Ewan is naked and/or covered in glitter for the vast majority of this film, and his American accent is really cute.