This glam rock movie from American indie writer/director Todd Haynes somehow makes a pig's ear out of the silk purse that is the early 70s glitter era, contriving a ridiculous fiction when any number of true stories - not least the rise and fall of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust - would have been better. But Haynes has a vision he'd like to share.
That vision follows the rise to glam superstardom of Brian Slade (Rhys Meyers) which ends with a faked death and mysterious disappearance. Ten years later, Mancunian journalist Arthur Stuart (Bale), working in New York, is asked to write a "Whatever happened to Brian Slade?" story. It's a dream assignment for the former fan and so the film proceeds to tell in flashback both the stories of Slade and Stuart and how they briefly intertwined. On paper, fine; on celluloid, a Rocky Horror Show of nightmarish proportions.
After a fairy tale voiceover opening which appears to link glam rock to Oscar Wilde and UFOs (but chiefly suggests the projectionist is showing a reel from another film), Velvet Goldmine quickly goes from bad to worse. Locations and period references are clumsily rendered, and the closest it comes to pitch perfect style is in resembling a bad film actually made in the 70s - but Stardust is much better. Into the mix comes McGregor as Curt Wild, slurring his way through a reasonable Iggy Pop impersonation (although any actor who, with bare chest, long blond hair and tight trousers, couldn't manage one should hand back his Equity card). Bale copes well as a dour Northerner trying to overcome both his roots and his lines
to fit into the London scene, and Rhys Meyers just Carries On Regardless as the script clunks on and on and on.
Only Collette (as Slade's distressed wife Mandy) and Eddie Izzard (as his brilliantly flamboyant manager) emerge with any dignity. Old classics in the soundtrack offer relief but the presence of a few rock'n'rollers (including members of Teenage Fan Club and Pulp) in stage scenes give it a credibility it doesn't deserve. The mystery twist is so obvious and dull, that long before the end is in sight, you'll only keep watching to see if it can get any worse. It does.
This might have worked if it had been played for laughs - but then The Comic Strip would have done it much better. In the end, its sole triumph is to replace Absolute Beginners as the most derided British music movie of all time.