Velvet Goldmine

The pursuit of meaning becomes Velvet Goldmine’s ultimate objective when we begin to recognize its intertextuality. Brian Slade, preaching sexual revolution, performing as a hedonist the audience can't emulate, was patterned after David Bowie in the same way his superhero alter-ego, Maxwell Demon, is Ziggy Stardust. Curt Wild is an amalgamation of Iggy Pop, Mick Ronson and Kurt Cobain whereas their sexual-spiritual predecessor, Jack Fairy, is Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno and a little Jack Smith.

Arthur Stuart takes the audience as his responsibility, being the participant that receives the World changed by Slade and Wild’s revolution. As a member of the sexual deviants which followed Slade's lead, Arthur was the product prepared by Slade, Wild and Fairy – a deviant hidden in the folds. Arthur was able to succeed in owning his life whereas Slade, Fairy and Wild were able to become fully themselves only through the public sphere, flaunting their sexuality without understanding it. Slade and Wild were notorious for running their passions relentlessly whereas Stuart, their sexual successor, was able to control that sexuality. Stuart was able to bypass the need for being recognized as a gender deviant. He was secure in his sexuality. Stuart passed through the need to wear his gender – dressed up as a woofter in glitter and mascara – but he transcended it.

Somehow or other I’ll be famous, and if not famous, I’ll be notorious

Oscar Wilde left an indelible mark on shared consciousness as one of the figures who linked flamboyance with homosexuality. As the first official dandy, he was infamous for dressing outrageously, his conversation and his wit. Oscar opened the film as a space baby. He was, literally, a gift from the stars, marking the position that gender-deviants would occupy in the film: Other, outsiders, foreign, alien, and unknowable. Thus, Wilde was singled out in his life as a spectacle, reveling in his wit, at the height of the Victorian Era. More importantly, he recognized himself as a spectacle as much as his peers and he capitalized on his role as an event. In the same way, Maxwell Demon was Slade’s way of anchoring himself. The pseudo-Victorian world that he occupied would not accommodate his identity. Therefore, Slade must create a separate world – a separate space – in which to construct himself. And it wasn’t enough for him to recognize himself – because what else would that mean? – he needed to the recognition of others. He needed a reference point, a mirror. Velvet Goldmine was an exploration of how Slade changed the world to accommodate his difference.

Central to the film's discussion of rock and roll is its discourse on sexuality as an identity and spectacle as a way to introduce and maintain the identity. The person becomes the image. The person becomes an image. The image comes to life. Mandy Slade, during the interview with Arthur Stuart, said:

It was the idea of Curt more than anything, this – image. Which, of course, no one could ever possibly live up to. I mean Maxwell Demon, Curt Wild – they were fictions! Somewhere along the way, Brian seemed to get lost in the lie.

Here, again, the film encounters the difficulties of living in a world permeated by image – much like F for fake which explores the politics of commodifying images. Slade and Wild knew that images were powerful – Wild, a typical rockstar, was dependent on hallucinatory drugs that generated his dreams for him whereas Slade, the up and coming musician, all talent, was reworked into a pop star by powerful management. Bowing to the domination of the almighty image, Slade and his harem resorted to altering their bodies. Slade’s sexual exploits with both men and women was in tribute to his all encompassing sexual appetite. He had a dynamic relationship with his body because he gave his desire freedom of expression. Instead of Victorian-esque repression, he was indulgence. He illustrated a relationship of a person with his body by attaching expression to one’s body as much as to sexuality.

Velvet Goldmine resembled F for fake because the plot was largely dependent on interviews and flashbacks or narrations that revisited past events – those concerning Elmyr and Clifford Irving and, in this case, Arthur Stuart’s personal history.

Returning to the earlier references to Wilde, a lot of the dialogue was taken from various letters and pieces from Oscar Wilde. The beginning sequence, in fact, boasts of a line from a letter Wilde wrote in 1884 about his sexuality:

I myself would sacrifice everything for a new experience … There is an unknown land full of strange flowers and subtle perfumes, a land of which it is a joy of all joys to dream, a land where all things are perfect and poisonous

I found it interesting that Maxwell Demon was a persona of a persona, Brian Slade. Thomas Slade was hidden underneath caricature after caricature, like an onion or a Russian doll. The film, however, was most concerned with uncovering truth since its characters, though lacquered in make-up and sealed in wax, were searching desperately for a stable self that doesn’t rely on celluloid, on the flit of moving pictures.

When Wild passes their symbolic broach onto Stuart, he recognizes that the identity of the glam-rock period has become passé. He recognizes the need to wipe off the concealer in respect for a more accessible identity, a domesticated truth which has transcended the image he and Slade produced.

Velvet Goldmine continues to breed meaning, intergalactic spaces, through inspiring pop culture references of its own, bringing the tradition full circle.

discussions outlining a more more comprehensive understanding of the film is available out there. not all of them are pretty beautiful, some of them are just golden.

(c) Fights That End With Broken Noses 070343 2009

It may be equally important to further discuss the other allusions such as the allusions to the life of Oscar Wilde and his character Dorian Gray from, of course, The Picture of Dorian Gray. His life, in relation to the characters in Velvet Goldmine, not only catapulted the idea of homosexuality into the consciousness of a civilized society which normally sees it as a taboo. Not only did it set the stage for the characters of this film. His life, views and works can also be used to further enlighten us in our attempts to comprehend the messages, or at least some of them, communicated by the film and its characters.

There had already been mentions of a need for Slade to construct one's image to assert one's identity and the struggle against losing one's self in that image (This is also one of the dangers of communication and image making. It is very easy to pin one's self as if a butterfly on display in a scientist's collection. This is one of the dangers of filming.) and image-making was one of the things that characterized the Glam Rock era and show business in general. Sometimes, there is no helping it. In The Decay of Lying, Oscar Wilde (1889) wrote: "Life imitates art far more than Art imitates life". It is true that Art is not a "mirror". It is a "veil" in this case (Wilde, 1889). However, life or "nature" only makes sense because art has already subscribed it to language. Vivian, Oscar Wilde's character in his dialogue says:

Nature is no great mother who has borne us. She is our creation. It is in our brain that she quickens to life. Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us. To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. Then, and then only, does it come into existence.

True enough, we can only know what something is and that something exists if there is already a word or sign for it. Communication is so vital for a thing to be thought of as existing. We think in language.

In Velvet Goldmine, Brian Slade needed to create an image to communicate himself as an artist. The whole Maxwell Demon really was a performance, but he is also a part of him. And his performance, his lie (or is it a lie? We now know that the borders have been blurred) must be convincing for the people to believe and consequently sell. Again, from the words of Vivian, "[But] wherever we have returned to Life and Nature, our work has always become vulgar, common and uninteresting". This can also be seen in Brian Slade's disappointment in himself after seeing Curt Wild perform for the first time. His being cloaked in legend on and off stage made the audience react even though the reactions were negative. He wished he thought of it first, and just like Mandy predicted, he did.

The coin, however, has two sides. Communications, as said early, has its dangers that are sometimes inevitable.

From this point of his life, we can juxtapose the picture of Brian Slade with "the picture of Dorian Gray", a character brought up in the class discussion scene in the film. Dorian Gray, according to the professor, "saw the world as a record of his life".

Dorian Gray is a young gentleman who became the muse of a painter named Basil. Basil had a friend, Henry, a nobleman infamous for his corrupt ways and admired for his flare and charm. Dorian was pure as Basil would say, and this is why he did not want Dorian to meet Henry who would and, of course, did ruin him. When Basil painted a portrait of and for the young man, Dorian realized this and that he would not be the same young beautiful man as the painting the next day, since he would have aged a day by then, he wished that he would never grow old and remain as beautiful as the painting. This wish was granted of course like Brian Slade's wish. Therefore, no matter what he does to himself, he remains immaculate outside. He maintained his pure image, which, of course, fooled a lot of people.

He eventually had troubles keeping the image especially when he got ended up murdering Basil on top of another crime. Like Brian Slade, he could not keep his make up smooth and his hair up even with a whole can of hairspray. He realized that the image is just an image and he needed to destroy it. Unlike Slade, however, he chose to destroy the image hanging in his room, which is actually his conscience. The portrait was his real self, his soul. Perhaps this is what happens when one gets too caught up being a lie. In the book, it is said: "For it was an unjust mirror, this mirror of his soul that he was looking at" (Wilde, 2006, p.150)

Brian Slade, on the other hand, because of his inability to remain Maxwell Demon or his inability to stop being Maxwell Demon needed to stage a murder for his Glam Rock persona. This eventually also lead to the disappearance, perhaps, also a death of the real Brian Slade (and his identity). Perhaps, he too, ended up having his real face interwoven with the "veil" or, perhaps, he has become what he has projected to the world. Either way, killing one, image or not, calls for the death of the other as well. No, if he had so much subjected to the image, he had died a long time ago. The staged murder/suicide was a futile attempt to save what is left of him, which is far less cheerful than what happened to the person who had inspired the character into life. Of course, if lives were colors and we are to see a gradient when we put one next to the other, Dorian Gray's life would be the darkest or thicker concentration, and David Bowie's life would be brightest.


Wilde, O. (2006). "The Picture of Dorian Gray". Ed. The complete illustrated works of oscar wilde. London: Bounty Books.
Wilde, O. (1889). The decay of lying: an observation. Retrieved March 21, 2009, from

Links to online versions of materials for intertextual analysis:

The Decay of Lying
The Picture of Dorian Gray

Submitted by: 050533

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