The Fictions of Empires

Velvet Goldmine is a movie with meaning. It’s there in the thickly-layered, labyrinthine script, overlaid with songs and Oscar Wilde quotes, and yes, the occasional spaceship. It’s a mirrored die—look at it this way and it’s about artistic expression, look at it this way and it’s about sexual freedom, this side is a blistering commentary on the entertainment industry and this side is merely stars and glitter, the truth that image is everything. They’re all there, depending on what side of the screen you’re sitting on.

I was on the side where it played on a small tablet while I sat in bed, painting my nails black and glancing curiously at this oft-recommended, never-seen movie. I loved the not-so-subtle Bowie nods, sighed at the gloriously stacked cast, and fully succumbed to the glamorous theatricality. It was gorgeous and interesting, and I could see why people recommended it.

And then Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor) walked out to perform “TV Eye.” And I died. And then was brought back to life. And melted. And found the connection with this movie.


In her post, Amber traversed the characters, spotlighted connections with real-world figures and discussed the pull between cautionary-tale Tommy Stone and dream-of-possibility Brian Slade. I also got stuck up on the point of identity, but not so much the possibilities for what we could have in the future. My fascination was the disguise, the uncertainty, and the yearning for unfettered freedom of expression. While watching this film, I was Arthur Stuart, but yearning to be less Brian and more Curt.


Underneath the sparkles, what Goldmine did for me was spotlight the nervous search for self, in one way or another. We have the audience surrogate in Arthur, the insecure glam fan. Who sees the person he wants to be in Brian, who is fascinated with the stark openness he finds in glam rock. He imagines screaming at his television, “That’s me, that’s me!” when Brian flirts with the camera, but in real life he hides the Brian Slade records and wears sweaters over his sexual liberation support pins. Even when he tries to shed these layers, it doesn’t work. He sees the glance of more confident scenesters, and retreats into his world of repressed safety.

To parrot his words, that’s me. I was the hiding girl. I was the one listening to seventies rock in the basement, but wearing pastel button-ups and sensible shoes in the outside world. I wanted to be a rock star, wanted the ripped shirts and safety pins, wanted to wear black from tip to toe and layer on the eyeliner. But it was too much. Too ostentatious.

I stole my older brother’s plaid shirts, sinking into the delicious grunginess, but fearing to wear them outside. I tried once. My older sister laughed and asked what on earth I was doing. Retreat to the blouses.

I took baby steps, like Arthur and his scarves, his gentle blush, his transitions to eye shadow and dyed hair.

Arthur, whose entry was Brian, but whose exit differed quite a bit. Arthur’s self-actualization to his glamorous self came through Curt, the wild card, the true animal.

See, in the film there are only two ways to be a real person, to have an identity without drawing on the well of artistic plagiarism. There’s the divine transition, the heavenly gift bestowed by those on high, something apparently reserved for Jack Fairy and Oscar Wilde himself (and temporarily gifted to whomever has the emerald brooch). Those are the ones with true genius. The only other option? Insanity. Enter Curt.

bothCurt, who was too raving mad to concern himself with external acceptance. His wild  (excuse the pun) performance drew in Brian Slade, who took the best elements and carried them to mass success, but never forgetting and wanting the man who captivated him. It perpetuated the circle, Arthur idolizing Brian idolizing Curt.

Arthur gains a complete sense of self not when he sees Brian Slade perform, or when he goes all in to the scene. It’s when he sees the vulnerable side of the music, is exposed to the raw, unfinished edge that is Curt. When they come together, it’s more than an excuse for attractive men to get it on. It’s the two sides, uncertainty and unawareness, combining to form perfection for just a moment. It’s the cosmic balance of two forces making something whole.

Which is the goal of a full identity. It won’t be everything we imagine—it won’t be Brian Slade at his finest—but it will be something halfway there and altogether different. It’s Arthur’s bright shirts and clear eyes. It’s in my black nails and dark-lined eyes, complete with a nice shirt collar. It’s in embracing the identity you want, but morphing it with the reality of what you have.

About Cat

Writer, teacher, arts enthusiast. Lover of TV and sandwiches.
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2 Responses to The Fictions of Empires

  1. trillie says:

    That TV eye thing is without a doubt the sexiest thing in the history of things.

    • Cat says:

      Absolutely! Now, I’m not saying I backtracked to watch it several times, but actually that’s exactly what I’m saying.

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