"To me, what really distinguishes it from other periods that preceded and that followed," Velvet Goldmine's writer and director, Todd Haynes, explains about glam rock, "is its refusal of natural models for the whole idea of the artist onstage and also, by association, identity itself."
The 37-year-old, Los Angeles-born filmmaker got his first dose of glam when he was, admittedly, too young to appreciate it. But the arresting images -- the outrageously impractical fashion and beautifully conceived album art -- stuck with him, and by the time he was in his 20s, he was discovering the music behind the pose and beginning to appreciate glam's social components.
"This was offering to kids of that period," he says via phone from his Brooklyn, New York home, "a kaleidoscope of possibilities about who you could be, and that it was up to you to change yourself. That's a really radical offering in my mind. It also extends to the sexual models that they were putting out there, which was about not fixing yourself into any sort of locked sexual orientation, but to let yourself experiment and explore."
Velvet Goldmine is thematically linked to Haynes' superb short films, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988) and Dottie Gets Spanked (1993), which explore the nature of fame and the complex relationship between performer and fan, who often uses the idol as a means to reach his or her own identity.
"The fan mythologizes and fills in," says Haynes, "and ultimately that's what the film is the product of: a fan's embellishment, mine. But it's also about that very process."
Although there are many parallels between the characters in Velvet Goldmine and glam artists such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno, Todd Haynes insists the film isn't strictly biographical.
"Those particular artists in this particular period," he explained, "were actively engaged in constructing and re-constructing and fictionalizing themselves. That's why this film is fiction. It would have to be, because to treat what they were doing with some sort of objective reality or preciousness is to lose the spirit of what they were doing."