Film and Documentary

Fictional Band Movies: Retro Review of Velvet Goldmine and Still Crazy

What do the rock movies Velvet Goldmine and Still Crazy have in common, other than great music? Both are British in nature, both are heavily music oriented, and both are fictional… Or are they?

Velvet Goldmine

Velvet Goldmine is primarily about androgenous glam rock icon Brian Slade, who sets 1970s London on fire with his Ziggy Stardust-esque stage persona, Maxwell Demon. (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Starting with Slade’s humble beginnings to his rapid, meteoric rise to stardom, as well as his equally rapid descent from the top. Slade’s married to the very dutiful Mandy (Toni Collette), who very blithely “allows” her husband’s often, and many transgressions, and poorly managed by Jerry Devine (the hilarious Eddie Izzard).

Enter the raucous, radical, and very troubled rocker, Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor), who turns Slade’s semi-charmed existence upside down. Also, a somewhat mysterious glam rocker named Jack Ferry (Micko Westmoreland), who wafts in and out of scenes with great frequency, whose entire existence centers on a green pin, purportedly from Oscar Wilde.

After headlining a brief but dazzling era of glitter rock, Slade fakes his own death onstage. When the hoax is revealed, his cocaine use increases, his sales plummet, and he disappears from view. In the ensuing chaos, he also loses his wife and #1 fan, Mandy. Her very poignant comment on their divorce, after the fact: “It’s funny how beautiful people look when they’re walking out the door.”

Fast forward to 10 years later, where aspiring British rock journalist Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) is assigned by his New York based company to find out what really happened to Brian Slade. But Stuart secretly has a leg up on this story, as he was actually there through the glam era in England, with his own story to tell. More than anything though, it’s the music. The film pulsates with a sound that evokes the era in general more than it does any one person in particular.

Slade’s character is loosely based on David Bowie, and Wild’s is supposedly based on Iggy Pop. Bowie initially disapproved of the film and its many similarities with his life story, and threatened to sue, resulting in substantial rewrites to create more distance between the character and the real man. Additionally, Brian Slade’s gradually overwhelming on-stage persona of “Maxwell Demon” and his backing band, “Venus in Furs”, likewise bear a strong resemblance to Bowie’s persona and backing band. The movie is also loosely based on the life and times of such glamsters as Marc Bolan and T. Rex, Roxy Music, and Iggy Pop, though these figures are used more for inspiration than factual storytelling. The tale strongly parallels Bowie’s relationships with Reed and Pop in the 1970s and 1980s.  Rhys Meyers and McGregor both perform their own vocals in the movie. Brian Eno, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, and T. Rex also appear on the soundtrack.

Still Crazy

Still Crazy is a watered down version of 1985’s This is Spinal Tap, telling the story of a 1970s rock band, named Strange Fruit, that tries for a reunion 20 years after its last disastrous concert.

On a whim after a comment from a former promoter and fan, the keyboard player Tony (Stephen Rea) decides to put the band back together. He tracks down Karen (Juliet Aubrey), who was Brian’s girlfriend and the band’s secretary, and persuades her to join him.

Together, they go looking for the others and find them: Ray Simms (Bill Nighy) the lead singer, who lives in a Victorian mansion with his bossy and controlling Swedish wife Astrid (Helena Bergstrom), Les Wickes (Jimmy Nail) is a roofer, Beano Baggot (Timothy Spall) works in a nursery, and lives in a small trailer on his mother’s property, and Hughie (Billy Connolly) is the lead roadie. Brian (Bruce Robinson), the lead guitarist, disappeared long ago and is thought by everyone to be dead.

Twenty years ago, they may have seemed like unapproachable rock gods, but now we see them as touchingly vulnerable: Once upon a time, they could do something fairly well, and now they have arrived at the stage in life where they could do it better– that’s if they can do it at all.

They hire a replacement lead guitar player, embark on a small tour, and there are several twists and turns along the way. They are forced to confront their own mortality, more than once. I won’t give anything away, but suffice it to say, I cry the last 20 minutes of the film every time I watch it. This film gives me all the feels. It’s heartwarming, funny, and sad in parts. Definitely well worth a watch.

These are two of my favorite music-related films. Both tell a story from the past, intertwined with present day at that time. And both have most excellent music. I highly recommend both movies.

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected]