Monday, October 21, 2013

The Death of Glitter: Great Films About Glam Rock

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as the Ziggy Stardust inspired character, Maxwell Daemon
Let's face it, Glam Rock is nothing more than a distant memory and the music of Bryan Ferry, The Sweet, Slade, T. Rex, and others is no longer played even on rock stations. It was an offshoot of the rebellious hippie trends that recognized the hypocrisy of a movement based on political revolution that never actually manifested, and decided to exploit the fashion, spirit, and aesthetic of the sexual revolution that was also taking place.
It's ironic that the one time we as a society became reflective of that was in the 90's mainly, not sure why, Bowie had just released a new album and newbies were all introduced to the music of Iggy Pop when Trainspotting came out in 1996. I wouldn't call this reflexivity disingenuous because behind the camera were some of the best storytellers working today like Todd Haynes and Neil Jordan.
I remember watching Velvet Goldmine for the first time when it first came out in 1998 and being like 'yeah, awesome, glitter, free love, sex drugs and rock n' roll' but then I saw it again when it was taught in one of my classes at NYU and introduced to us by our learned professor as 'his favorite film'. I began to understand that like the Glam Rock music, Velvet Goldmine was a film rooted in the deepest of hedonistic, stylized and self-reflexive nature. In fact, if you do enough research for the film, you'll find out that a good majority of the script comes verbatim from the work of Oscar Wilde, whom in the film, Todd Haynes singles out as the 'inventor' of Glam Rock. 
Johnny in costume being coached by director Todd Haynes, keep in mind he was only 19 when he was cast in that role. And given how complex and layered it was, it was a tour-de-force performance.
Thereby Glam Rock was a rebellion. It was a movement that dained to be daring, incendiary, and throw out all repository hypocrisies and norms we as a society had picked up, and for its idealism, that's perhaps why it had such a short run in the mid-70's and never really fully resurfaced. Yes David Bowie just came out with a new album but his Ziggy Stardust days are far behind him. One can really say that Glam Rock started with The Velvet Underground and their connections to Andy Warhol who was all about exploitation of the fabulous and the non-boring in life which was parlayed into a devil-may-care movement where men proudly donned glitter eye-shadow and lacquered hair, openly practiced bisexuality as a means of being sexually ambivalent, and created some of the best, outlandish, and moving music ever. 
I'm going to list three films from the past 20 or so years that accurately, if not brilliantly portrayed this movement and then leave you with clips. As I said before Velvet Goldmine (1999) is nothing short of a masterpiece, both in storytelling, but also in aesthetic. It utilizes not only the work of Oscar Wilde but also a soundtrack based on covers from one of the most seminal Glam Rock bands of the 70's; Roxy Music. It's masterfully acted and directed, not to mention written with a narrative that copies that of Citizen Kane (1941) where a lowly journalist is sent on a mission to find out what happened in the mysterious shooting of a Bowie-esque figure that in his time encapsulated everything people wanted out of their pop icons. What's great about it, is that it's told in modern time and flashbacks to the magical times of the 70's. That time is aesthetically presented as colorful, magical, and whimsical, while the modernity is bland, dystopian, and harsh. Meaning to say that without the effervescence of those influences, we have all returned to a dull and mundane existence, and let's face it we really have, and no Lady Gaga has not been our messiah.
The second is a Neil Jordan film called Breakfast on Pluto (2005) which takes place in war-torn Ireland fraught with protests and attacks by the IRA. In the midst of everything a young androgynous student named Patrick 'Kitten' Braden (Cillian Murphy) who is completely ambivalent to the turmoil and decides to go to swinging London looking for his mother in order to piece together the cracks in his identity. 
Cillian Murphy in drag for his role in Breakfast on Pluto (2005) and to make up for his lack of breasts he often refers to himself as a 'svelte gamine'.
The third, is not so much great of a film, but it heavily features the music of Roxy Music, and uses that as inspiration in a lot of the scenes. My favorite song of all time is 'If there is Something' written by Bryan Ferry and performed by Roxy Music. It speaks to me because it has such a deepness. It starts off as a jaunty little tune about a man falling in love with a woman and then there is an outcry which seems to come out of no where in which the man proclaims his love in the most heartbreaking way, and then there is about a 5 minute interlude which seems menacing and all the while you're wondering where is this going? After which, there is a lament about a love lost, or a reflection of an old man on the great love he once had. I had literally thought this song had faded into obscurity forever ago but apparently it still has resonance in a film starring Daniel Craig and Claire Forlani called Flashbacks of a Fool (2008). Again, the movie is wildly flawed but just for those moments I adore it. Enough from me, enjoy the clips.

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