Fanning The Flames

Todd Haynes

Haynes is extremely skeptical about the possiblity of a glam revival. "Glam established a preoccupation with image and the look of the artist that is now very commonplace--in the Boy Georges, Princes, and Madonnas--but has lost much of its arresting power. It made you think about who you were in ways I don't think it does anymore. Glam isn't an option now, mostly because the culture we live in is so much less progressive than the culture that produced it. And the meaning, energy, and potential glam gave to the act of looking isn't possible in a culture where every image is available to us immediately and outside its cultural context. In a way, glam saved itself from that horrible recycling process that most other significant chapters in the history of rock undergo by predicting its own end in various ways and killing itself off--Bowie killing Ziggy, Eno leaving Roxy. I wanted the whole film to be a reflection of the Roxy Music experience I had, rather than the Bowie experience. Roxy Music has this elegaic, mournful melodramatic quality, this spilling out of emotion, but it's brought to you with such an excess of references, winks and nods, and posturing. The duality of being so emotional and so tongue-in-cheek is always what moves me. It's Sirk and Fassbinder and Oscar Wilde, too. They let you feel the feelings and think about the structures at the same time."

In inviting the fan to become what he or she looked at, glam blurred the distinction between identification and desire, just as it blurred those between masculinity and femininity, heterosexuality and homosexuality, fact and fiction, form and feeling. In Velvet Goldmine, the thrill of blurring is specifically tied to the adolescent experience.

"Maybe it suggests," says Haynes, "that the period when we're most vulnerable and impressionable is limited, and that to become part of society, to submit to a single identity, a career, reponsible choices inevitably cuts us off from everything glam rock stands for. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is the only other film I can think of that deals with the themes specific to the glam era, is the film that successive generations of teens cannot let go of. Jim [Lyons, Velvet Goldmine editor] and I saw it again a few years ago and we were shocked that the audience's reactions were still the same--the perversions were hailed and the conformity ridiculed. It can only be that there's this brief time before you have to settle on a life for yourself when you're invited to dress up, interact, and engage, to wear the lipstick and the garters, to be faggoty."

Robin Holland

And it's not just a boy thing. In Velvet Goldmine, the most explicit sex scene between Brian and Curt is enacted with Barbie dolls that belong to girl fans.

"I wanted to show that it wasn't a problem for girl fans to enter that world and play out their desires with two boys instead of a boy and a girl. But ultimately, the little girls holding up their Barbies and speaking through them is exactly what I'm doing in the entire film. It's not the story of Bowie and Iggy. It's what we do with what they put out there. That's the work of the fans."

So, perhaps, it's not surprising that when Miramax, Velvet Goldmine's North American distributor, test-screened the film, it found that it scored highest with female audiences under 25. "I always knew," says Haynes, "that the perfect boy is a girl."

One of three articles in our Velvet Goldmine feature.

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