Wednesday, 9 June 2010

We're In A Bit Of A Decadent Spiral, Aren't We?

To Ewan McGregor and Jonathan Rhys Meyers getting it, we say yes.


Todd Haynes has a way of putting together exciting combinations. Firstly (well, chronologically speaking, in terms of this blog...) he gave us Patricia Clarkson and Julianne Moore in the same film with Far From Heaven. With Velvet Goldmine he's decided to throw McGregor, Rhys Meyers and Toni Collette together for a glam rock faux-biopic. Sure, Christian Bale plays a prominent role (I do think it interesting that Bale, the American, plays a Brit while McGregor, the Brit [or Scot, whatever] plays an American), but I actually didn't mind him in the film, for the first time in my Bale-watching experience.

Bale takes the central role of Arthur Stuart, a Brit living in the States working as a journalist, tasked with writing an article trying to find out whatever happened to glam rocker Brian Slade (Rhys Meyers), aka Maxwell Demon, ten years after he faked his own death on stage, a stunt that ended his career and led to him gradually fading from the spotlight. Arthur, who hides from his colleagues that he wasn't only a follower of the period, but that he was in fact at the concert in question, and had even partied with the musicians involved with the movement (in more ways than one, if you get my point, wink wink nudge nudge), wanders around interviewing various interested parties, from Slade's old manager to his ex-wife Mandy (Collette.) Through these interviews, combined with Arthur's memories of the time, we piece together Slade's rise from complete obscurity, track his influences, including Curt Wild (McGregor), and then enter his megalomaniacal and self-destructive latter stage, leading to his ultimate downfall as the ultimate icon of the times.

The film is a very thinly veiled take on the life of David Bowie, hence the title. It explores the free-wheeling sexuality of the time and the public response to it, as well as the overriding power of the pop icon - combined with the freedoms of the 60s, suddenly the idea of rock stars as role models is somewhat dissolved, being replaced by the notion that, as they are larger than life, they can do what they want without repercussion. Of course, this is what leads to the outrage at Slade after his stunt - by tampering with the emotions and the obsessions of his fanbase when he tries to fool themselves that he is dead, he instead turns them into a mob baying for his blood when it is revealed to be a hoax. Imagine Michael Jackson suddenly popping up and saying 'hey, just kidding!' There would be outrage from the majority, not relief. That is what is happening here. Sure, the decadent spiral is fun for a while, but in the end everyone has to get off, or else they will end up drinking beers alone in a seedy bar somewhere, much like what happens to Curt Wild. Or you're crying into a glass of something like Mandy. When enough is enough, you have to say so. No one needs another Lindsay Lohan.

Haynes pulls together a great cast, for many of them a few years before they would really get a great deal of international notice, and works them together well. It's not a flawless feature, but it is a solid mix of fun and dramatics, happiness and sadness, glamourousness and seriousness. How accurate an insight into the era I can't say, knowing very little about it, but it is at the very least an interesting escape exercise for those not in the know. And I was shocked by how much I enjoyed Christian Bale. He is shy for the most part, reserved, scared even, but there is a moment when he is lying outside half naked with Slade and Wild when he smiles and it is beautiful. McGregor is ok, but I think a lot of it for me always has to do with his accents - I don't think he ever quite manages to pull them off as well as we would like. Collette as well isn't at her peak - she just doesn't seem totally involved during the more emotional segments, and her brash American through the party years grates rather than endears. Rhys Meyers was definitely my standout, bringing brooding insecurity into incredible ego easily and gorgeously. He owns his Maxwell Demon character, brings it to glorious life.

Sandy Powell deservedly picked up her third Oscar nomination for the film, in the same year that she won her first for Shakespeare In Love. Haynes picked up a special Artistic Contribution award at Cannes, and was also nominated for the Palme d'Or, while uber-producer in the indie world Christine Vachon racked up her second Independent Spirit nomination with Haynes for Best Feature.

As I said, it's a fun film with faults, but it's definitely a nice way to kill an afternoon. The soundtrack is fantastic also - we love our films with kicking music. Check it out. 3.5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. What???? McGregor, Rhys Meyers, Toni Collette and Christian Bale in the same movie and I haven't seen it???????