Velvet Goldmine (1998)

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Released 8-Aug-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 118:11 (Case: 122)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Todd Haynes
Studio
Distributor

Shock Entertainment
Starring Ewan McGregor
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers
Christian Bale
Toni Collette
Eddie Izzard
Case Click
RPI $34.95 Music Carter Burwell


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, constantly
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Sometimes, the name of a single actor can influence the viewing decisions of an entire audience, and Ewan McGregor is one actor who currently holds that exalted position. After appearances in Trainspotting and two episodes of Star Wars, there seems to be no stopping the man as far as memorable big-screen appearances go. However, it is the small-time stuff he's done, such as Shallow Grave, that leaves the biggest impression with me, mainly for the chance it gives him to be his most outrageous. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Velvet Goldmine, a film in which McGregor appears for maybe a total of twenty minutes, and gets top billing.

    At its heart, Velvet Goldmine is about Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale), a journalist who grew up during the glam rock era of the 1970s and was a big fan of Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). Brian faked his own death when his fame was imprisoning him, but the whole thing backfired, and fans had the knives out, literally burning his records at the stake. So it is up to Arthur to track down the people who knew Brian best, and to piece together the story of how Brian rose to fame and then fell from grace, seemingly of his own volition.

    Chief among the sources that Arthur tracks down is Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor), a man who more than lives up to his name in terms of stage antics and public behaviour. Contrary to what has been stated in some news sources around the time of this film's release, Curt Wild is not a David Bowie impersonation, but Bowie did have a friend on the scene who was much wilder and more self-destructive, who went by the name of Iggy Pop. Knowing this one little fact helps make the film make a bit more sense at times, but one cannot help staring at Curt Wild in spite of the fact that this Citizen Kane-style biodrama is focused upon Brian Slade.

    Another intrinsic problem of making a film about the story of a rock star from the 1970s is that history has shown different places have different trends at different times, even in the face of attempts to turn the entire globe into one crass commercial centre. During the England of the 1960s and 1970s, glam and hippie music hardly made a splash at all, except in clubs and pubs frequented by upper-middle-class well-to-do teens. Birmingham, one of the places mentioned in the film (I think it is mentioned as Curt Wild's birthplace but don't quote me) was exclusively a blues scene, and even the invention of a new music style by four of its favourite sons hasn't changed that a whole hell of a lot. I guess what I am trying to say is that portraying the world as being into glam as if it was some kind of overriding all-powerful influence is a big mistake on the part of this film.

    To be honest, Velvet Goldmine is a bit of a puzzle, with a second viewing required just to get the gist of what the director was trying to accomplish, and don't expect the big happy ending that Hollywood often dictates. Things are left very open here, and not in the sequel-happy manner that Hollywood films are left open, but more left open so that viewers with a brain can interpret the ideas in the film. So yes, a second viewing is required, but I would not recommend using the Region 4 version for that purpose...

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Transfer Quality

Video

    In a nutshell, this is the worst video transfer I have seen since the Monkey DVDs, which is saying something considering the available source material in this instance is of much better quality.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced. The proper aspect ratio of this film is 1.85:1, and there are a number of crowd scenes or band shots where this becomes obvious due to faces being chopped in half.

    The sharpness of this transfer is quite good considering the other problems with the transfer - I was tossing up between four stars or three and a half stars for this one rating. In the end, I went with four because the picture is sharp enough that the story makes sense and one can see who is doing what to whom. The shadow detail, however, is pretty poor, with the dark parts of the image being more or less completely black, and not just during the stage shows. Given that this is a film, not a concert video, it doesn't matter in the end whether the poor shadow detail is intentional or not - numerous shots are difficult to understand because of this one factor alone. Thankfully, no low-level noise was noted in the transfer.

    The colours in this transfer are generally hyper-realistic, with the outrageous costumes worn by the cast and the extras really benefiting from the improved colour fidelity that DVD offers. I did not detect any composite artefacts in this transfer.

    MPEG artefacts were noted in the form of pixelization, or accentuated grain, in what appeared to be a tracking shot of a painting at 3:16. I don't care what anyone says, the encoder that Siren have used to compress this source material into a single layer was definitely not up to the job (most aren't). The digital tape they used at some stage in the replication process also wasn't up to scratch, judging by the digital tape dropout present at 38:18. Film-to-video artefacts were also a right nuisance, with aliasing occurring on a brick wall at 19:57 or a microphone stand at 31:12, to name the worst examples. There was hardly a shot in the film where this artefact wasn't either breaking out in copious amounts, or bordering on breaking out. A dose of vertical wobble that could have been introduced at the telecine stage added to the fun at 70:36. Film artefacts were present in enough quantities to be distracting during the first couple of reels, but they soon became the least of this transfer's problems.

    No subtitles are available on this DVD.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is but one soundtrack on this DVD: the original English dialogue, encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 kilobits per second.

    Most of the time, the dialogue was fairly clear and easy to understand, but sometimes when characters are narrating their side of the story, it gets hard to hear exactly what they are saying when the sounds of their stories fade in. There is one good example at 34:00, when Slade's first manager is wrapping up his story about his input into the man's career. No audio sync problems were noted except the occasional case of bad ADR, which mostly comes during the concert or musical numbers.

    The music in this film is credited to Carter Burwell, whose credits also include the additional music on O Brother, Where Art Thou?, to name one interesting example. Most of the music in this film consists of glam rock numbers and drug-fuelled rock, two distinct styles that people who were into David Bowie during the early 1970s or the late 1970s should find worthwhile. Numerous references to David Bowie and Iggy Pop disappearing into a recording studio in Berlin and making several albums are made during this film, in fact. The second of the Bowie albums produced during this time remains one of the scariest ever accepted by the pop establishment in any way, shape, or form.

    The surround channels are restricted to use during the music, and occasional effects such as when an audience is laughing at 65:04. The ambient sounds of chatter or leaves blowing around the environment occasionally make their way into the surround channels, too, but often in a somewhat muffled form. The music in this film is fairly constant, so the lack of surround activity during other sequences is bearable. Sometimes, however, the viewer will be a little distracted by the feeling that something in the surround channels just doesn't quite sound right, as if the surrounds are compressed harder than the rest of the soundtrack.

    The subwoofer was hardly used by the soundtrack in this case. I remember even sitting in front of my subwoofer during a second listen to see if I could hear or feel anything coming out of it. While there was a faint rumble present, the subwoofer seemed a little bored overall by this presentation, which is not how it should be in a soundtrack so dominated by rock music in any form.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The cover claims that theatrical trailers are present on this DVD. I did not find any, either with the menu or with a software DVD player.

Menu

    The menu features Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, while the scene selection menu is animated with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. None of the menus are 16x9 Enhanced.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 2 version of this disc misses out on;

    The RSDL formatting, extras, and 16x9 Enhancement, not to mention the quality of the local transfer, make the Region 2 UK version of this title a clear winner.

Summary

    If there is any kind of message in Velvet Goldmine, I would hazard a guess that it runs something along the lines of "for heaven's sake, don't be part of a movement". The film itself is quite languid in places, and most of the humour comes directly from Ewan McGregor's performance, but a lot of it will likely be missed by those not familiar with the history of Iggy Pop and David Bowie. Still, one could do a lot worse than view this piece a couple of times.

    The video transfer is very bad.

    The audio transfer is good.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Wednesday, November 20, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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