As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Two music movies

Posted by Hedwig on March 1, 2008

Not everyone might know it, but Once wasn’t, in fact, Glen Hansard’s acting debut. He was also one of the band members in the titular band that the charming little movie The Commitments is about. The one with the abundance of red curls, to be precise. And when I say abundance, it’s rather an understatement. In all fairness, his role is a fairly small one.

The movie’s lone slightly original touch is that the main character isn’t a musician, but the band manager Jimmy, who interviews himself at length from the (imagined) vantage point of later success. The relative lack of drama about all the partner swaps, or rather, about who sleeps with which background singer, is remarkably cliché-free, and all in all, for a movie about all-out soul, this is a remarkably low-fi movie. I liked it quite a bit… but it was the other music movie (also, incidentally, with a clear link to a 2007 film) that I really, completely, unapologetically loved.

That movie was… *drumroll* Velvet Goldmine. Directed, of course, by Todd Haynes. And my, is it… I’m having trouble finding words for it. Oh, sure, I can describe it the way it’s often described, as a fictional movie about the glam-rock times, partially inspired by David Bowie (hence the title), with lots of glitter and sexual ambiguity and music. But no description prepared me for what I found here: a free-associating, stream-of-consciousness extravaganza which manages to reference both Oscar Wilde and Citizen Kane repeatedly, with not only wild make-up but insane musical numbers. A movie like a dream even my deepest subconscious doesn’t have the imagination for.

Ok, ok, so I might be venturing a tiny bit into hyperbole territory here. But seriously, I loved this movie, maybe partly because it reminded me of why I love I’m Not There, which I can’t wait to see a second time. Velvet Goldmine is messier, but filled with the enthusiasm that makes an artist. It shows the fun of making music and being wild more than I’m Not There, where Dylan never really seems to enjoy his success, or even the debauchery that it brings him. Velvet Goldmine might not be as good or brainy a movie, but it’s ten times sexier.

This movie just broke down all my defenses. Usually, I’m a stickler about perspective. The inconsistencies of perspective in Munich, for example, totally ruined my enjoyment of that movie. Here? The perspective is all over the place, jumping from recollections told to someone to memories of someone else to pseudo-documentary footage to… well, Barbie dolls, in an homage to Haynes’ earlier Superstar. Yet I never minded, fully absorbed by the film as I was.

And the cast… oh my. Jonathan Rhys Myers, who was barely on my radar until now (he was good in Match Point, and admittedly he cleaned up really nice in Bend it Like Beckham, but I can’t really remember him in anything else) immerses himself completely, and Ewan McGregor makes a lovely crazed counterpart. Even Christian Bale (who I think is a very good actor, but rather humorless) fits, and Toni Collette is amazing.

I realize it’s a bit stereotypical for me to love this movie, fascinated as I am by gay culture and camp excesses. But trust me, I never even felt especially compelled to watch this. I saw it on sale for 5 euro, barely more than the price of a rental, and I couldn’t resist. I’m glad I didn’t. And the 54% fresh rating on rottentomatoes makes me all the more convinced this movie can use another champion. Yes, the movie is a mess. But what a glorious mess it is.

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