There are two types of directors that I really admire and sometimes these categories cross over. There’s the director who, in my opinion, makes consistently good and interesting films. By good and interesting I mean that the camera functions beyond pure point-and-shoot, that there is intention, that the beats all work, and that it plays as though it’s thought through thoroughly. Then there’s the director who, though he or she may fail from time-to-time, takes risks. Todd Haynes is certainly the former at times, but is always the latter.
Haynes is maybe most notable currently for his Mildred Pierce mini-series, but that was preceded by such unique films as I’m Not There., Safe, Far From Heaven and Velvet Goldmine (VG).
VG is a saturation-heavy, glitter-filled rock flick that approaches homosexuality and bisexuality not as problem to be solved or as protest cry, but also not as a non-issue. The film, which takes place predominantly in the early-mid 70s and 1984 looks at Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) as a David Bowie type character, and all of the pitfalls that come with stardom and identity crises. The sexual politics in here are certainly backdrop (a closeted young man’s difficult relationship with his parents, an “open-minded” wife left in the lurch when her husband goes to another man, etc) but what is refreshing about VG is that Haynes presents these issues but only as an excuse to glamorize the escapist and freedom-filled nature of the clubs, bars and concerts where sexuality and identity are overlooked and all eyes are blind to any difference therein.
I also really admire Haynes for not only tackling varying subject matters, but also for how he varies his technique from film to film. I’m Not There. was black and white with soft lighting and a roaming camera. Far From Heaven was saturated to the point of Technicolor, channeled Sirk, and relied more on the static, very balanced frame. Velvet Goldmine is color, but in a different way than Far From Heaven. In this one Haynes oscillates between a muted earth tone for 1984 (the dystopic, post-glam era) and a pastel-neon glow of the 70s. His camera roams, but differently from the inquisitive documentary eye of I’m Not There. In VG the camera zooms, tracks and racks constantly. It’s nervous and energetic, but it’s also unsure of itself, in the same way as the characters. Haynes also uses “effects” that were probably dated at the time, and still feel not only dated, but nostalgic, as though we’re watching a 1980s music video.
I’ve heard VG and Baz Luhrman comparisons before – he of the modern Romeo and Juliet, Australia and Moulin Rouge. These are unfair. Firstly, the aesthetics – costuming, makeup, colors – of both directors are entirely different. Secondly, Luhrman is obsessed with anachronism for the purpose of style only. His films are empty. Haynes uses anachronism to relate eras and to draw relationships.
For a “real” review on VG read what I had to say here: