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Velvet Goldmine

velvet-goldmine-posterConspicuous by his absence from the soundtrack, Bowie as beautiful, androgynous space freak is all over Velvet Goldmine. Quite a few people, Bowie included, cattily dismissed the movie as a gay glam fan’s total wish fulfillment fantasy, saying it was just an extended music video that took glam rock as no more or less than a gateway to gay liberation, to buggering who you want to bugger (or have bugger you). To me, though, the movie is a cool curio for precisely that reason. Filmed by lesser hands, and as perceived by lesser minds, Velvet Goldmine has all the potential to be simply a cock-shy piece of trash, gutlessly rendering the glam-swooning London of ’72/’73 as a bright conglomeration of talented and imaginative blokes on the make. Somebody could make a good movie of that, perhaps. Velvet Goldmine, however, is an aficionado’s fond, feather-light look back at an era the director wasn’t around for, mashing the sounds and styles through his own filter of appreciation, and giving it lots of sex and sex appeal in the process. The fact that the movie has no choice but to skirt around Bowie’s bio (as opposed to tackling it head-on) frees it to go deeper into its own fantasia. (Part of the film’s fun is the way it reinvents the Ziggy Stardust phenom at will, from a Citizen Kane-like perspective.) And hey, Bowie and the Spiders From Mars may have been the apotheosis of the genre, but there was a helluva lot of great glam rock that other people were making then, too, and I salute any film that gives them ample shoulder room.

Of special merit: Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Hot damn.

Rating: B

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Book Covers Used to Be Better, Too

Reading Jack’s great article on movie posters (which I will be expanding on soon) I want to throw in for 70s paperback book covers. Book covers now all look the same, and have been homogenized like movie posters. There used to be more art to them.

Here’s one I just found that’s hard to beat:

Shaft Among the Jews-1

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20,000 Days on Earth

20000daysonearth_crop54 years and change. That was about three years ago now for Nick Cave, whose semi-documentary is one of the odder meditations around on music, art, and the folly of making documentaries. There are no flies on Nick’s wall, we see no warts other than those artfully placed for us to see. The places we see are sets. The conversations are not written, but staged. Warren Ellis does not live by those magnificent white cliffs, but the filmmakers thought he ought to.
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Nick Cave is a rock god. That’s his job. While this film might explore aspects of his life, it does not diminish his mystique – it’s not supposed to. The only times the film feels uninhibited are when music is being performed or written (and, indeed, some of the scenes from the Push The Sky Away sessions were indeed the actual band recording in the studio.)

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Where Nick Cave appears most unguarded is in a scene where he’s sitting on a couch with his sons, watching Scarface and eating pizza. Which, of course, was not what happened. They were in a set, staring at a camera.

We also don’t see him spending hours at a gym, which to keep in as decent shape as he is for a mid-50s former heavy drug abuser is mad.
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The best parts of the film are the car conversations. Nick Cave will be driving around, and friends will pop into the car for a chat. Ryan Winstone, Blixa Bargeld, the infinitely lovely Kylie Minogue. Not Mick Harvey, unfortunately. Of the Bad Seeds, Warren Ellis (who is abso-friggin-lutely hilarious) is the only one who does much speaking on camera. It’s not that kind of documentary. It’s barely a documentary.
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Because in real life Nick Cave does not type his lyrics out laboriously, right from his brain. He writes them long hand, then edits them on a computer. But that feels less true about Nick Cave, rock star, even if it is the fact about Nick Cave, guy.
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Not too much in the way of music performance (though there are a couple of breathtaking concert sequences that made me want the whole concert, dammit), but plenty of gorgeous and meaty filmmaking.

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The Records – Starry Eyes

starryeyesThe song certainly sounds like by-the-numbers power pop, and it is by-the-numbers power pop.  A run-of-the-mill jangly beat accompanies your run-of-the-mill jangly guitar overdubs.  And the song is a kiss-off to someone (the band’s agent, perhaps, or manager) who stabbed someone else in the back.  What lifts the tune, though, is the sweetness of the melody and the cuteness of the central vocal, both of which overtake the poison pen letter of the lyrics.  And as a number that sounds like it could have been on an early Cars album—except it’s not as taken with alienation as Ric Ocasek would ever permit—it really does bring 1966 into the new wave.

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Pretenders – Back on the Chain Gang

backchaingangIn the space of one tune, the Pretenders capture that which the band excelled at: a great, poignant melody tied to touching yet tough lyrics, couched in a dynamic sound-scape of delayed guitars and a snappy beat.  The song was basically a reaction to the death of original lead guitarist, James Honeyman Scott; but anyone who hears it and has lived a little can relate to it.  The appeal is universal.  We can all relate to feeling as though old times were better times; that the world today is against us, is out of control and is oh so difficult to deal with.  I love the plaintive little curlicues of the guitar that accents the rhythm guitar.  I love the oh-whoa-ohs that Chrissie Hynde sings on top of them.  And as she looks back on a relationship with someone she loved and lost, Chrissie sings from the heart.  I admire the way she emphatically conveys her sadness without sounding like a sop.