All That Glitter Allows

CITY PAGES: More than anything, Velvet Goldmine is about the relationship between fan and star. Since you came to this project as a connoisseur of '70s glam rock, I'm curious to ask: Were there times during the research or the shooting of the movie where you met an artist and thought, "Oh, my God, I can't believe I'm sitting here talking to..."?

TODD HAYNES: Yeah. It kept happening, in fact. Although I have yet to meet [David] Bowie, I can give you a couple of great examples, starting with a dinner I had with Brian Eno and Brian Ferry while we [were] just beginning preproduction in London. And you know, [the excitement came from] the very fact that these two artists had parted ways in '73, rather acrimoniously, and had only started speaking to each other in the last five years--and who really represented, between the two of them, a musical sophistication that is at the core of what interests me about this era. The early Roxy Music records that Eno was a part of, and the few that followed, sum up the most interesting dualities between this highly referenced, ironic, tongue-in-cheek kind of musical presentation and, somehow, this incredibly emotional quality at the same time. That combination still baffles me, and it's something that I tried with all my gumption to bring to the film itself.

CP: That's cool. Who else?

HAYNES: Well, I had an amazing conversation on the phone with Iggy [Pop]. Although we didn't need to contact him directly to secure rights to the Stooges' music that we were using in the film, I felt that it was really important to make a personal connection and let him know what we were doing, to keep him from ever feeling excluded from it. And he called me back immediately in London and he was so incredibly warm and enthusiastic. And he knew my films--he said he'd seen Safe in L.A. He was like [in a gravelly growl], "I saw Safe at the Laemmle, man--packed house, you could hear a pin drop!" Which meant he'd gone to see it within the first couple weeks, you know [laughs], since the film didn't last too long in theaters. So all of that was incredibly flattering. It blew my mind.

CP: Getting back to those first Roxy records and that balance you described between artificiality and emotion: It seems like much of the rest of rock 'n' roll, especially during that period, had been so dedicated to covering up that whole vibe of theatricality and artifice. And you certainly see that kind of covering up in this year's cinema, too, in terms of the new wave of film "realism" that we're in the midst of--whether it's the "documentary" style of Saving Private Ryan or the ne plus ultra cruelty of films like Your Friends & Neighbors. Why do you suppose there's such an interest in claiming "realness" these days--and what are the effects of it?

HAYNES: Well, I think it goes way beyond this year's films. I think it's basically our way of understanding ourselves as a society--in terms of very fixed notions, in terms of models based on nature. And ultimately that boils down to notions of identity that are about a sort of organic, authentic sense of self that we are supposed to find and stick to [laughs]. And that goes along with a consistent sexual orientation as well. Films have always been about finding the appropriate codes for naturalism or "realistic" storytelling--which, of course, change, from era to era. So if you look at the films from the '20s and '30s, and their codes of realism don't work for us today, because they seem dated, then that goes to show that the "realism" in these films is actually quite coded, invented, though not acknowledged as such.

Conversely, it's very unique voices like Oscar Wilde, and this weird little departure in rock music known as glitter rock, that begin to reveal the language that we like to think of as invisible and natural, and make that the point of what they're talking about. It's not accidental that there's an element of homosexual history that fuels some of these works that look at the world in a different way--because gay people, and other minorities, are not given the same access to these codes of realism and authenticity that the society likes to give out. So we are forced to read the world against the grain and to look at those structures and those codes that don't exclude us.

CP: In terms, then, of the ability of some of these works to have it both ways--to speak very strongly to a particular audience and succeed commercially in the mainstream--I'm really curious to see how Velvet Goldmine develops, as a work that's being widely released to multiplex art houses. Do you have any guesses about how the film will fare, commercially or otherwise, in this context?

HAYNES: I feel slightly devilish about it [laughs]. I'm delighted and I feel kind of sneaky at the same time that this film, with its [queer] subject matter and content, is being given a fairly major release for a film of its kind. Perhaps it's ridiculously major, particularly in today's market, where films, by necessity, in terms of their financing, have to resemble a previous year's hit. The kind of films most people go to see [these days] are those in which viewers expect to see something they've seen before. In a way, that's become the pleasure of filmgoing: having a slightly cynical way of expecting what the film is going to be like--that Will Smith is going to blow something up in the next act or whatever.

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