Wonderstruck (2017)


Today’s Cinema Adventure was originally published in

The Los Angeles Blade

Todd Haynes has a lot of his own history to live up to.

After establishing himself as an audacious talent with “Superstar” (which used Barbie dolls to tell the story of Karen Carpenter), he became a pioneer of the “new queer cinema” with “Poison,” and broke through to the mainstream by reinventing the glossy Hollywood melodrama in “Far from Heaven.”  He has pushed the boundaries of traditional narrative form, subverted cinematic tropes to challenge definitions of gay culture imposed by heteronormative society, and given voice to “otherness” through a medium in which it has historically been repressed.

With a pedigree like that, it may come as a surprise that, for his latest work, he has chosen to make what is essentially a feel-good family film.

Such a pairing of director to material might seem unlikely, at first; but once the film starts rolling, it doesn’t take long to realize that Haynes and “Wonderstruck” are a match made in movie heaven.

Through two interwoven stories, taking place 50 years apart, its the saga of two young runaways.  In 1977, Ben (Oakes Fegley) – who has recently lost his mother to a traffic accident – embarks on a quest to find his father, whom he has never known; in 1927, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) flees her tyrannical father and goes to New York to seek out her favorite film star, Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore).  As their tales proceed, it becomes clear that the parallels between these two children are more than just a similarity of detail, and that they are somehow linked across time by the answers they pursue.

The conceit is inherently both literary and “gimmicky,” but the director – along with author Brian Selznick, who adapted the thoughtful screenplay from his own 2011 novel of the same name – has turned both those qualities into building blocks for pure cinema.  Known for appropriating vintage techniques in his work, Haynes takes full advantage of the opportunity to explore two widely different periods in a single film.  Each story is framed in the visual language of its era, utilizing the gritty milieu and unmistakable color palette of seventies cinema for Ben’s segments and the richly evocative black-and-white grandeur of the silent screen for Rose’s.  Both affectations, as executed by cinematographer Edward Lachman, are exquisitely realized, making “Wonderstruck,” perhaps above all else, a bewitching treat for the eyes.

Likewise, Haynes’ musical choices are canny reflections of each period.   His oft-noted love for seventies “outre” rock finds expression in Ben’s timeline through astute selections by David Bowie, Fripp and Eno, and Sweet; for Rose’s silent world, the near-constant orchestral accompaniment (by Haynes regular Carter Burwell) eloquently provides the emotional cues made necessary by the lack of spoken dialogue.

Equally on target are the film’s performances.  The ever-luminous Moore, a longtime muse for the director, proves yet again that she is one of her generation’s most gifted actresses with her virtually wordless performance.  Michelle Williams, as Ben’s doomed mother, strikes a perfect balance of warmth and melancholy.

Superb as these seasoned veterans are, the film rightly belongs to the trio of younger actors around whom its plot revolves.

Fegley and Simmonds both give mature, fleshed-out portrayals that engage our empathy for the duration of the film; and the winning Jaden Michael is a joy as Jaime, the lonely and sensitive boy who befriends Ben, providing an emotional ground in the here-and-now for a story which otherwise deals in unrequited connections between past and future.

It is the man behind the camera, however, who is the real star of “Wonderstruck.”  Though this heart-tugging fable about the enduring power of love might, in other hands, seem sappy and manipulative, Haynes – as much chameleon as auteur – embraces its sentimental qualities and deploys them with unflinching sincerity within the framework of his own distinctive style.  Informed by his fascination with semiotics, he explores its themes through layers of meaning intricately woven throughout its recurring motifs.  His use of the film’s preoccupation with architecture and museums is by itself worthy of extensive commentary – but the riches of this “cabinet of wonders” are best left to experience first-hand.

As a side note, Haynes is an “out” film director who has reached a place of prominence in the industry, and as such carries the hopes and expectations of an entire community on his shoulders.  Although “Wonderstruck” is a “non-queer” story, it is told with unmistakably queer sensibilities.  As always, Haynes gives us a film about societal “outliers” trying to find their place in a world that has no room for them – something that goes right to the heart of the LGBTQ experience, yet speaks to the yearnings of a broader audience as well.

This universal appeal means that most viewers will likely fall in love with “Wonderstruck.”  Not only is it Haynes’ most accessible work to date, it is one of those rare films that truly deserves to be called “magical.”







Far From Heaven (2002)

Today’s cinema adventure: Far From Heaven, the 2002 drama by writer/director Todd Haynes, which revisits the high-gloss style of late-1950s Hollywood melodramas in order to tell a story of social prejudice and dirty secrets surrounding an ideal, picture-perfect family in mid-century suburbia.  Acclaimed by critics and nominated for scores of awards, it represented Haynes’ breakthrough as a top-level filmmaker and brought him his greatest commercial success to date.  Particularly notable for its visual style- including radiant cinematography and meticulously realized period details- and the performance of Julianne Moore in the central role of a housewife whose ideal life begins to crumble around her, it is also considered an important breakthrough in the acceptance of independently produced films in the mainstream industry and something of a milestone in the continuing struggle to include gay and lesbian subject matter in movies aimed at a wider audience.

Set in the suburbs of Connecticut in 1956, Far From Heaven tells the story of Cathy Whitaker, a model housewife and mother in a seemingly perfect upper middle-class home.  Her marriage to Frank, a successful sales executive, is happy and fulfilling, and she is a prominent member of the town’s well-to-do women’s social circle.  She enjoys a blissfully elegant existence in her fashionable home, tended by Sybil, a black maid whom she treats- more or less- as an equal; the only aspect of her life that is less-than-ideal is the fact that Frank’s long hours at the office increasingly keep him away from home well into the night, but she is understanding and supportive of his efforts to keep his family well-provided-for.  One evening when he is again stuck at work, Cathy decides to surprise her husband by bringing him a dinner plate from home; when she arrives, however, it is she who receives the biggest surprise, for she discovers Frank locked in a passionate kiss with another man.  Later, at home, her deeply mortified husband haltingly admits to her that he has had “problems” in the past but until recently has believed himself to be over them.  He agrees to see a psychiatrist and undertake therapy to “cure” him of his homosexual impulses.  Nevertheless, as time passes, his refusal to discuss his ongoing treatment and his increasing emotional absence from their relationship- as well as his noticeably heavy drinking- begin to take their toll on their marriage; meanwhile, she finds an unexpected connection with her new gardener, Raymond, an educated black widower struggling to raise a daughter on his own.  As their friendship develops, however, Cathy’s society friends begin to take notice, and she finds herself being shunned for crossing the line between races- an unacceptable social taboo which results in the ostracism of Raymond within his own community, as well.  Facing condemnation from her former friends, no longer sure of her marriage, and growing to recognize the previously unthinkable truth about the nature of her feelings for Raymond, Cathy finds herself isolated and increasingly disillusioned by the hollow facade of her so-called perfect life, but in order to preserve her family she must make the difficult choice between following her own heart or conforming to social expectations.

Haynes, known for his highly stylized approach to filmmaking, wrote Far From Heaven as both a tribute to and a reinvention of the lavish domestic melodramas of the late 1950s, popular films which often featured controversial social issues as complications in their stories of idyllic middle-American life.  In keeping with this, his screenplay features the kind of artificial-sounding, slightly over-the-top dialogue found in these slick documents of mid-century morality; but he has updated the subject matter, throwing the spotlight onto the kind of issues that- though deeply pertinent in that age of prosperous conformism- were too hot to handle for film studios still bound by a decency code that prohibited depictions of anything outside the accepted social “norm.”  Consequently, Haynes has made a sort of “what if?” scenario come to life with Far From Heaven; he has painstakingly crafted a film that recreates the look and feel of those he is emulating, but which directly addresses the pertinent issues which could only be hinted at during the era in which they were made.  In other words, he has made the movie that many filmmakers of the time doubtless wished they could have made, but were simply unable.  Mining most specifically from the work of Douglas Sirk, whose big-screen soap operas, particularly All That Heaven Allows and Imitation of Life, provide the inspiration and the model for Far From Heaven, he peels off the layers of coded euphemism and sugar-coated insulation to reveal the ugly specter of prejudice at the heart of this pretty-picture existence.  In the suburban diorama he presents, the real emotional landscape beneath the pristine and well-ordered surface is made visible; he gives us a world where deviation from the accepted mold is a source of deep shame and scandal, where a “real man” believes that having sexual feelings for his own gender must be a psychological disorder, and where a woman’s friendship with her black maid is seen as admirably progressive but socializing in public with a black man is an affront to decency.

Haynes’ direction is impeccable; he lovingly conjures the form and substance of his chosen genre with absolute accuracy, and yet infuses the whole with his own particular style, subtly edgy and highly contemporary.  There is an eye towards the use of symbolism- Frank’s job is selling advertising and his company’s own marketing features a portrait of himself and his wife in the comfort of their ideal modern home, underscoring the theme of presenting an artificial image for public consumption, and there is a frequent presence of mirrors and other sources of reflection or visual duplication- but these elements are present mostly to support a more direct communication of his themes, revealed through his dialogue and his storytelling.  The outward form of his film adheres to the cinematic language of the movies by which it was inspired- the familiar standards of visual composition, leisurely tracking shots, slow cross-fades or blackouts between scenes, tilted camera angles to indicate that the world is slipping out of balance- without the use of more modernistic techniques such as rapid cutting or varying film speeds; one of Haynes’ most prominent traits as a filmmaker is his gift as a stylistic mimic, and he uses it to great advantage here.  His deep understanding of the milieu in which he is working permits him to utilize its techniques in the service of his personal vision- an expression of the painful longings buried within this bygone era, and a reminder that, sanitized nostalgia aside, the simpler times so fondly remembered in the popular imagination were rife with hypocrisy, ignorance, fear, and heartbreaking dysfunction.  More importantly, by presenting so clearly the outdated mores of the past, Haynes shows us not only how far we’ve come, but also- somewhat discomfortingly- how far we have yet to go.  In observing the attitudes toward race and sexuality variously represented by the characters in the film, we are forced to examine our own relationship with these questions; we are not so far removed from a time when gay bars were hidden establishments behind an unmarked door in an alley or when interracial couples were not free to appear in public together, and the mistrust and prejudice surrounding such matters are still a nagging blot in the heart of our cultural identity.  Though our own world may be a little closer than the one shown here, it is still, for too many of us, “far from heaven.”

The conceit of making a neo-Sirk melodrama, in less ambitious hands, might have resulted in a pale shadow of the original luster undeniably present in those earlier films, but Haynes takes it very seriously, and he takes it all the way; Far From Heaven is built like a piece of retro-fitted classic architecture, incorporating modern advancements into a structure made from the original raw materials and designs.  The film was shot using with contemporary camera equipment, but utilizing the same lens filters and incandescent lighting that would have been employed in the 1950s, allowing cinematographer Edward Lachman to provide a luminous authenticity that perfectly captures the look of the period.  Haynes also worked extensively with his designers to develop a color palette that matched the flavor of the era, infusing the sets and props with a rainbow of pastels and deep hues that likewise encapsulates the sensibilities of the time; most noticeable, perhaps, are the costumes of Sandy Powell, whose stunning designs incorporate not only the colors and lines of ’50s fashion, but the fabrics and textures as well, giving Far From Heaven a sense of realism that is often missing from such period films, which all too often look like an affected caricature of their era rather than a genuine expression of contemporaneous tastes.  To complete the illusion, Haynes went so far as to enlist the great film composer Elmer Bernstein, whose music graced many of the most well-remembered movies of the actual period, to write the score; his lush orchestral accompaniment lends an unmistakable air of authenticity to the proceedings, as well as voicing the passion, the yearning, and the menace inherent in the story.  It was to be Bernstein’s final work- he passed away shortly after completing it- but it stands as one of his finest.

Just as he takes the outward form of his project seriously, Haynes is careful to maintain its inner integrity; here again, he differentiates Far From Heaven from the countless other movies derived from mid-century sensibility by choosing to treat it without the irony that so often pervades contemporary takes on the period.  It is true that the film’s imagery often includes signage or other items which offer subtle commentary on the action or subtext, but this is irony in a different, more literary sense, an artistic device used extensively by directors dating back to the earliest days of cinema and thoroughly in keeping with the style of the actual works the filmmaker emulates.  To avoid inserting contemporary attitudes and judgments into the piece- particularly considering the use of stylized, melodramatic language in the movie’s dialogue- requires a delicacy and skill in the way it is handled by its players, an almost theatrical need to affect a heightened artifice without being disingenuous; one of the greatest blessings of Far From Heaven is that it has a superb cast that is more than equal to that challenge.  It almost goes without saying that the film’s star, the always-glorious Julianne Moore, gives a sublime performance as Cathy, offering up an utterly captivating journey from precious naïveté to worldly disillusionment; her embodiment of Donna Reed perfection is utterly sincere, and yet she gives us a glimmer of the more complex soul that emerges throughout the narrative, as she gradually pares away the layers of socially conditioned conformity to reveal the mature, fully aware woman she has become by the bittersweet final scene.  A more surprising and revelatory performance, however, comes from Dennis Quaid, as husband Frank; always a solid and dependable presence, the actor here breaks from all expectations- while simultaneously using them to great effect- with his portrait of a gay man trapped into the respectably straight, cookie-cutter existence dictated by convention; his exaggeratedly gregarious joviality rings no more false than that of any of his colleagues or cohorts- their world, after all, is a place where a show of male emotion is a sign of weakness and crippling imperfection- but when he is alone, his torment and shame are palpable, seething from within and racking his entire being.  His struggle is all the more painful to watch because his role in the story is that of the unfaithful husband, failing in his duty to home and family because of what his society deems a moral failing, and we as an audience are conditioned to disapprove of his behavior and his choices; Quaid plays it with absolute integrity, forcing us to confront our own preconceived notions by showing us the ugliness of his anger and resentment- but also making it clear that they arise from the conflict between his true nature and his protective mask.  Because he resists the temptation to soften his portrayal by playing for our sympathy, the unfolding emotional wreckage rings completely true, eliciting audience empathy far more than any forced Hollywood sentimentality could manage to do; his scene with Moore following the revelation of his secret shame- a choked, mutually humiliating exchange of faltering half-sentences and defensive body language- is one of the most devastating depictions of a breaking relationship in recent screen memory, and the understanding each actor has for their character in these moments allows us to feel the pain of both throughout the rest of the movie.

Though Far From Heaven ultimately belongs to its two stars, the remainder of the cast is equally superb.  Dennis Haysbert as Raymond brings a refreshingly genuine aura of class to his portrayal of a confident, kind, and sophisticated gentleman, determined to live as he deserves despite the social dictates that surround the color of his skin- though thanks to his later role as the television spokesman for Allstate, it’s sometimes hard to watch him without thinking of insurance.  Patricia Clarkson, as Cathy’s best friend and confidante Eleanor, tackles the delicate and thankless task of providing a sympathetic foil for Moore while having, ultimately, to represent the well-meaning but narrow-minded hypocrisy that permeated the time; she acquits herself admirably, making her character understandable, if not quite sympathetic.  Viola Davis, in an early role as Sybil, Cathy’s maid, has little to do beyond adding her quietly dignified presence to the proceedings, but she does so with grace and charisma, managing to make a strong and eminently likable impression with a minimum of spoken lines.  Finally, mention should be made of James Rebhorn, as the psychiatrist from whom Frank seeks “conversion” therapy, who has a memorable turn in his single scene; also resisting the urge to play a stereotype he presents the good doctor as friendly, kind and professional, a sympathetic- if inscrutable- figure who offers at least the suggestion of a more progressive attitude towards alternative sexuality.

Far From Heaven was a critical darling upon its release, and garnered more than 100 nominations for film awards worldwide, including 4 Oscars.  With its reverent use of classic filmmaking style and technique, it’s easy to see why critics and film scholars would find it so rewarding, and much of the praise and commentary it has generated has been centered on this aspect of the movie; but for those less interested in cinematic heritage than with entertainment value, does it provide a worthwhile time investment on its own merits?  The answer is a resounding yes; Haynes use of the classic mise-en-scène is geared entirely towards making an intelligent, modern film with a compelling, thought-provoking story, and the work of its cast and crew is never anything less than top-notch.  Whether or not you have knowledge or experience of the Sirk-ian ’50s tearjerkers from which it is derived, it is a beautiful film to look at, and even those who normally disdain weepy melodrama will find its approach to be restrained and dignified, devoid of the hokey manipulation that so often mars such stories.  Perhaps its greatest importance lies, however, in the snapshot it gives of a time and place in our not-too-distant past, when a dominant culture was freely allowed to discriminate and disenfranchise those who cannot conform to its carefully-guarded status quo; it’s a reminder of the human cost of hate and ignorance, and a warning to those who take for granted the social advancements of the past half-century- as well as an indictment against the all-too-many in today’s world who still cling to the outdated views of the not-so-golden past.  On a less profound level, it is also a gift for the legion of social “outsiders” who, like its director, grew up loving the movies to which it pays homage, and longed for one that spoke directly to the concerns pertinent in their own lives; Far From Heaven is that movie, and thanks to Todd Haynes, it is everything we could have hoped it would be.


Velvet Goldmine (1998)

Today’s cinema adventure: Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes’ 1998 glam-rock fantasia with sexy, charismatic performances by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Ewan McGregor, and Christian Bale, a film that has gained a loyal and substantial cult following despite the poor reception it received upon its initial release. Boldly structured in the mold of Citizen Kane, it follows the attempts of a journalist to piece together the decade-old mystery surrounding a glam-rock superstar who unsuccessfully faked his own assassination before fading into obscurity. Interweaving scenes of the writer’s quest with flashbacks depicting the rise and fall of his enigmatic subject, Haynes’ film plays fast-and-loose (deliberately) with facts and fictionalizes significant real-life figures as it pays tribute to- and laments the fading of- the musical and cultural mini-era on which its focus lies. To this purpose, the film’s designers have crafted a dazzlingly surreal and authentic recreation of the English rock-and-roll scene in the early seventies, reconstructing the peculiar mix of tinsel, trash, and haute couture that defined the look of the period, as well as the darker, grittier eighties of the film’s parallel narrative. In particular, Sandy Powell’s superb costume designs succeed in capturing both the outrageous fashion of the rock-and-roll glitterati and the more subdued flavors worn by their less-glamorous followers and fans. The sparkling package is wrapped in the vivid cinematography of Maryse Alberti, which evokes the authentic photography of the day so completely there are times you swear you are looking at archival footage.

Inhabiting this time capsule world are several superb performers, each in the early stages of their highly successful respective careers. In the key role of Brian Slade is Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who effectively embodies the ultimate glam rocker, channeling the spirit of David Bowie (on whom the character is heavily based, along with, to a smaller degree, Marc Bolan) and yet investing the performance with his own energy as well- cheeky yet vulnerable, jaded yet naïve, sexually charged yet romantic, he manifests the image of the androgynous bad boy while letting us see into the complex personality beneath it. He is matched by Ewan McGregor (as Slade’s collaborator and lover, Curt Wild- inspired in equal measure by Iggy Pop and Lou Reed), who likewise presents a convincing portrait of an archetypal glam figure- but a distinctly different one, rougher-edged yet ultimately, perhaps, deeper. The two performances complement each other like a dovetail joint, and both men are at their most impressive- and mesmerizing- when they are called upon to perform in the numerous musical sequences, pulling off the full rock star act with exuberant bravado and absolute confidence. In a less showy role- but no less superb- is Christian Bale, playing the journalist and former fan who is haunted by memories of his youthful involvement in the glam culture and of his personal connections to both the iconic stars in the history he is tracing; always a deeply compelling actor, Bale is effective throughout, but he is at his best as the rosy-cheeked youth of the flashbacks, riding the extremes of his adolescent emotions as he tentatively explores his own developing sexual and ideological identity and comes of age in a heady time of seemingly limitless possibilities. Toni Collette is both deliciously tawdry and surprisingly grounded as Slade’s wife Mandy, impressively evolving with the character in an arc that takes her from hippie muse to jaded has-been; and Eddie Izzard is appropriately loathsome as the oily manager who shepherds Slade into the world of rock-and-roll excess.

Despite the considerable strengths described above, however, Velvet Goldmine is not an unqualified success. Haynes is a gifted director, justly acclaimed for his ability to translate complex and esoteric themes into a compelling screen experience, but often criticized for failing to create a cohesive whole; his films often seem more interested in conjuring elemental forces than in using them to work toward a specific purpose. Of course, such a technique allows the audience to form their own personal conclusions; it’s an impressionistic style of filmmaking, and like other impressionistic art forms, it’s not to everyone’s taste. With this effort, his passion for the period and the attitudes it represented is very clear, and he succeeds admirably in approximating the glam milieu and bringing it to the screen. However, the formula he chooses to do so creates some problematic issues: the investigative drama which drives the plot seems a brilliant device for exploring this seminal period in contemporary pop culture, allowing him to explore the what made it such an appealing time for those who embraced its spirit and why its memory and influence linger today; however, the brooding, mournful tone of the mystery- as well as the deeply personal importance placed on discovering the answers by the film’s protagonist- suggest a weighty significance at the core of the nostalgic proceedings that somehow feels misplaced. To be sure, Haynes is presenting a document of a time in which a generation overflowed with the excitement of changing attitudes and the promise of freer personal expression, a time which was to morph all too soon into a glitzy, self-centered era in which shallow, self-destructive excess would take a heavy toll; the collective loss of innocence resulting from this social odyssey certainly spawned the kind of emotional wounds reflected by the characters in Velvet Goldmine, and the healing power of reconnecting with these cultural roots, of rediscovering the spirit that generated the whole process in the first place, is clearly a major part of the film’s intended effect. In these terms, Brian Slade provides the perfect metaphor: hungry for the freedom to be himself, whoever that may turn out to be, he soars into a fantasy world made real- only to eventually succumb to the lure of nihilistic hedonism, transforming his existence into an unsustainable nightmare from which he must eventually choose to escape or die. However, Slade is not an Everyman, not even a glorified one like Charles Foster Kane, and his experiences, though they may resemble a magnified version of those shared by many who participated in the glam sub-culture and the disco era which followed, ultimately seem more the consequence of individual character makeup than a reflection of some greater social phenomenon. More germane to the group experience, perhaps, is Bale’s journalist, burned by the broken promise of his youth and seeking a way to come to terms with the deep longings left unfulfilled; but the plot on which his redemption hinges, the conceit of uncovering the secrets of a former pop icon’s decline and fall, ultimately feels forced. After all, there is no mystery to be solved- the story to be told is so common as to be predictable- and in the end, there are no real answers to be found there, only an implausible plot twist and a phantom wound that will never stop itching. To make a resolution even less palpable, Haynes’ screenplay (from a story written by himself and James Lyons) wraps the plot about a man exploring an enigma in another, larger enigma: invoking the spirits of Oscar Wilde and Jean Genet, he introduces a mysterious, possibly extra-terrestrial gem which secretly links the characters and their histories to a long procession of pop superstars, suggesting that the cycle of fame is some sort of mystical cosmic reflex which affects our social evolution, and even hinting at the deliberate manipulation of our pop culture by an unseen and arcane outside force. Another apt metaphor, and an interesting proposition- one which seems borrowed from the handbook of glam-era theatricality as represented by such flights of fancy as Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona, a source of much inspiration to the events portrayed in the film- but in this case, perhaps, a needless complication in an already over-complicated mix.

Speaking of Ziggy Stardust, it seems necessary to also remark that the heavy fictionalization of the figures represented- which amounts to the creation of a sort of alternate glam universe- has been a point of considerable controversy surrounding Velvet Goldmine. Taking well-known real-life icons and re-inventing them for dramatic purposes is an acceptable tactic that goes back, no doubt, to the very beginning of story-telling; however, Haynes has here blended real events so completely into the soup that the result could be very confusing to those unfamiliar with the true history of those involved. Though Brian Slade is not David Bowie, he certainly feels like it; indeed, Bowie himself, initially involved in the project, pulled his support and the rights to use his songs after discovering that the script incorporated elements from unauthorized biographies by his former wife and others. To make matters even more confusing, mixed in with the original musical selections composed for the film are older songs by such glam-era artists as Roxy Music, T. Rex, and the New York Dolls, among others, performed by the fictional singers as if they were themselves the originators. Though I’m not one to quibble about adherence to historical accuracy- after all, my favorite movie is Lawrence of Arabia, and my love for Shakespeare is in no way affected by his fondness for rewriting history to suit his needs- in this case it seems appropriate to suggest that, before making any assumptions based on the recognizability of the figures on display in Velvet Goldmine, it would be wise to do some research and decipher who these characters really are (or, rather, really aren’t).

Nevertheless, Haynes’ film provides many pleasures: the aforementioned musical sequences, mounted with a gaudy theatrical flair that captures the glitter-rock essence to a tee, are the film’s best scenes, nostalgic yet freshly minted; and there are moments throughout that reach through the layers of conceit to grab at your heart-strings, electrifying touchstones that instantly transport you to the memory of some shared, universal experience- the yearning, impossible ache of a teen-aged Bale staring at homoerotic photos of his idols; the sharp humiliation of Collette’s Mandy Slade as she confronts her husband in the midst of his dehumanized, drugs-and-sex-saturated oblivion; the explosive, adrenaline-fueled vitality of McGregor’s first stage performance as Wild (in which, incidentally, he strips naked for his adoring audience). All in all, the exponential popularity of Velvet Goldmine is not surprising, nor is it undeserved: though it may leave us unsatisfied on some nameless level, and though it sometimes feels as though it takes itself far too seriously, its youthful exuberance and its visual perfection go a long way towards making up for its shortcomings; and even if it ultimately leads us to prefer and embrace the real-world history which it distorts for its desired effect, it seems fitting and desirable to find satisfaction in that which is real rather than in a glittery fantasy- and that, come to think of it, is perhaps the true message of Velvet Goldmine.