On Sunday, January 10th, the rock legend David Bowie died after an 18-month battle against cancer. Everywhere in the world, people woke up with the newspapers, a notification on their phone, TV, the radio or any other media, announcing Ziggy Stardust passed away. But the main question remained: he had cancer? Bowie kept his disease a secret until the end, leaving us with his last masterpiece, his farewell present, ‘Blackstar’, released on his sixty-ninth birthday, on January 8th, 2016.
Bowie is an icon for our parents, grand parents and even young children. The memories are different and each one of us think about something special when he listens to Bowie. For me, Bowie is also about a movie. In 1998 was released Velvet Goldmine, directed by Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Carol, 2015). Ewan McGregor. Jonathan Rhys Myers. Christian Bale. A trio that left me breath taken.
The young journalist, Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale), is investigating on the most glamorous and enigmatic star from the 1970s, the British music legend Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Myers), as well as his mysterious disappearance leaving his fans in shock. In his early years, Slade is highly influenced and inspired by crazy American rockstar Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor).
Looking closer to Bowie’s life and all the theories about his sexuality, his alter ego and characters such as Ziggy Stardust, the themes of his songs, we can see that Haynes based Slade’s character on his life. All along the movie, Slade is searching himself, trying to know who he is, impersonating his own character on stage called Maxwell Demon but also getting closer to Wild, his partner in crime, the one he wants to become, the icon.
Curt Wild’s character, with his leather pants and dearing attitude on stage, can leave the audience sceptic about who he may represent. Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, all those icons have been close to Bowie and saw him evolve in his life and music.
Through a communicative use of colours, emotions and narration, Haynes succeeds in keeping the audience on hold during this investigation. More than a hidden tribute to those two artists, this is the memory of a young boy. As he discovers Slade’s music, Arthur discovers himself. That’s when he tries to come out to his parents that Slade will become his role model, the one he truly loves.
‘Velvet Goldmine’ is also a track Bowie recorded in 1971, for the album ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’, released in 1975. Unfortunately, the track never made it on the track list. However, the song appeared on the UK re-release of ‘Space Oddity’, the same year. Isn’t Velvet Goldmine a metaphor about Bowie trying to get out of his characters, trying to find himself? He couldn’t make it the first time, he appeared on the second album, as Slade disappears, after years of fame, showing himself as someone he is not, at least, not anymore. Velvet Goldmine is a way to show that Bowie was multiple, and unique at the same time.
So, what does Bowie’s work make me think about? Creation. Uniqueness.
Davy Jones, David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Angel of Death, Thin White Duke, Halloween Jack… May your voice be heard in Heaven.
By Nina Lecourt-Neuman