Monday, March 10, 2008

Monday Monologue: Velvet Goldmine

The critical reaction to Todd Haynes' recent Dylan thesis I'm Not There with pockets of "masterpiece!" raves was surely informed by the years of goodwill that the director has engendered in the critical community and the status of the icon examined. For 10 years ago he made an even better picture which wasn't greeted as warmly. It was also about peculiar shifting identities and the unknowability of creative giants. So for today's monologue, let's sing the praises of Toni Collette as Mandy Slade in Velvet Goldmine.

This glam rock picture hops around chronologically, just as I'm Not There does, and though Brian Slade / Maxwell Demon (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), Mandy's husband, is the film's principal shape-shifter the other characters also mutate as they tell their communal story. When it comes time to hear her side of the story, about 50 minutes into the movie, we meet Mandy who has retained precious little of the former glitzy diva that we've come to know. Her hair is dishevelled and she moves slowly, taking drags from a cigarette.
Because honestly darling, I haven't spoken with Mr. Slade in, what? Seven years at least. Wow. Yeah, at least.

No, right after everything crashed we split. Brian... he just became someone else but then again he always was.
On the last line Todd Haynes cross-dissolves the image and we drift into Mandy's memories, the film restlessly seeking out visual wonders in the stimulating time period. But even before we've jumped backwards, Collette --a great storyteller of an actress-- has already teased out the past. The "darling" comes out both nostalgic and self mocking (or patronizing, perhaps?) and we know she's performing for the interviewer, remembering a younger version of herself .

Haynes weaves her narration in and over musical moments and between shimmering images of Brian Slade, Jack Fairy and Mandy colliding sexually and emotionally.
It was New Years Eve, 1969, the start of a new decade. The feeling in the air that anything was possible. See Jack Fairy had also come to London in the swinging '60s. And in crowded clubs or hotel bars, this shipwreck of the streets rehearsed his future glory. A cigarette tracing a ladder to the stars.

I needn't mention how essential dreaming is to the character of the rock star.

Jack was truly the first of his kind. A true original. Everybody stole from Jack. But from the moment Brian Slade stepped into our lives, nothing would ever be the same. It was his nature. So I married him.
Her narration ends there followed by Brian singing to her and a sex scene that beautifully captures the fluidity of these young musical creatures. Before Haynes leaves Mandy's story behind, he returns to her voice... in the past... only now it's overtly theatrical, less self aware, and more than a little childlike.

Time. Places. People. They're all... speeding up. So to cope with this evolutionary paranoia, strange people are chosen... who through their art can move progress more quickly.

[narrating again] It was the most stimulating and reflective period of our marriage.
Todd Haynes is one of those people that can move progress quickly through his art. Toni Collette is the strange person who was chosen for this great role.


Joe Reid said...

Love the movie (my favorite Haynes), love the performance (shoulda been Oscar nominated), love the post.

NicksFlickPicks said...

Ditto (not quite ditto, but close), ditto (ditto), ditto.

adam k. said...

Collete TOTALLY shoulda been nominated for this role. I'd love to see a '98 film bitch retro.

Anonymous said...

I recently saw this for the first time, and I was blown away.

Judy said...

Lovely post (LOVE the woman, so thank you); I therefore hesitate to point out that you spelled her name wrong ("Tony") in the last line.



please never hesitate to correct me with typos. I was once a spelling bee champ. Michigan regionals thank you very much. I have no idea what's become of my ability to conjugate verbs and spell lately.


I think it was all the "Y"s of Fairy, Haynes, Mandy... ;)

Michael Parsons said...

Toni is everywhere!!!!!

And now she will be on TV. Is TV where the real talent ends up these days?
As for Toni I still believe she will get nominated and win again. Karma made Jolie loose out on a nomination this year for stealing Toni oscar all those years ago. So karma will give Toni that role that sends her into Oscar history.


i just wish Hollywood had run with my idea of Toni as Liza. that'd be her Oscar. you know how they love the performance of musical performances.

just stare at that last image and just LIFE IS A CABARET OL' CHUM... COME TO THE CABARET

or if not that i wish they would film WILD PARTY and let her play QUEENIE on the big screen. i loved watching her sing and dance.

Marshall said...

Not his best work, the Glam Rock Citizen Kane thing doesn't exactly work, but it's certainly my favorite of his films for the period and the music.

On a side note, when I worked at my local video store at the end of high school here in VA, Chief Justice William Rhenquist came in alone in a track suit at about 9 PM and rented VELVET GOLDMINE. Two weeks later the court made their historic decision on sodomy. True story.

Anonymous said...

Hey Nathaniel, I was wondering if you heard about the Film "Cadillac Records" with Adrien Brody, Beyonce Knowles, and my favorite Jeffrey Wright. It's on IMDB. Here are some pictures from the set:

Anonymous said...

Nathanial, lovely post! I can't agree with you more about Toni (and Velvet Goldmine). She makes every film she is in better. Regarding Liza, here's what Todd Haynes had to say about casting Toni, "Mandy was the hardest part to cast in the film. It's a particularly demanding role due to the range Mandy has to display as she changes from the seventies to the eighties. This type of camp female character has basically vanished from our cultural landscape, as far as I can tell. The closest equivalent today is probably a Parker Posy-type character, but she's still quite different from the Liza Minnelli of Cabaret or the Angela Bowie of the glam era."

Btw, Mandy's quote about certain people moving progress more quickly is straight from Angela Bowie's biography.

A current quote from Todd about Velvet Goldmine: "I think all my films can be enjoyed. In fact, they've often surprised me with how they're received. A film that had the hardest time, at least initially, was Velvet Goldmine, and it's the film that seems to mean the most to a lot of teenagers and young people, who are just obsessed with that movie. They're exactly who I was thinking about when I made Velvet Goldmine, but it just didn't get to them the first time around."
Come up and see me, share my Velvet Goldmine obsession over at vardathemessage.
LS Pan

Anonymous said...

@michael parsons

Angie did NOT steal the Oscar from Toni. Her only competition was Antonia San Juan in Todo sobre mi madre, and she wasn't even nominated ! Angie wa just pitch-perfect in Girl, interrupted.

adma k. is kinda... hot ?I

adam k. said...

I should probably change this picture, it's kinda suggestive...

ryansumera said...

toni as liza.

what a great companion piece to judy as judy that would be.

Glenn Dunks said...

I love the performance more than the movie, although when I saw it it wasn't under the guise of "a Todd Haynes film" for me because I didn't particularly know who Todd Haynes was. Maybe I should rewatch it.

Mattie Lucas said...

Glad I'm not alone in my "Velvet Goldmine" love.

I still think it's Haynes' finest film.