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Self-Control: The Construction of the Celebrity Image in the Films of Todd Haynes

by Michelle Robinson

The clips in this student project explore Todd Haynes’ representation of self-control as it relates to the construction of the celebrity image. The director not only explores the ways in which a celebrity image is built – and the ways it can be both constructive and destructive for the artist – but also audience reaction and how celebrity image is received. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

Self-Control: The Construction of the Celebrity Image in the Films of Todd Haynes

by Michelle Robinson

The clips in this student project explore Todd Haynes’ representation of self-control as it relates to the construction of the celebrity image. The director not only explores the ways in which a celebrity image is built – and the ways it can be both constructive and destructive for the artist – but also audience reaction and how celebrity image is received. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

Sexual Identity and the Celebrity Image

by Kristen Scheckelhoff

Todd Haynes’s film Velvet Goldmine presents the story of the rise and fall of fictional 1970s glam rock idol Brian Slade, as told through the experiences of a reporter re-examining his own past. The story roughly parallels the life of David Bowie and the influence of Iggy Pop on his stage persona and image, though the characters in the film are given fictional names, and much of the music was written specifically for the film. This technique of basing a story on real-life events, without following them too closely or formally acknowledging the connection, likely sidestepped the legal problems Haynes encountered with his earlier star biopic (Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story) which could never be officially released.

This clip opens on the set of the television show “Pick of the Pops,” where Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and his wife walk in amidst flashbulbs, wearing matching space-age costumes and embracing the spotlight. A close-up shot of the green pin Brian is wearing as he sits down ties this scene into the overall narrative of the film – a “passing of the pin” through generations of queer men, who come to understand their sexual identity (and become pop culture icons) after receiving the pin. For Brian, this is the first time he presents his onstage persona as a true expression of his inner self. In fact, he is introduced on the show as “the incomparable Brian Slade – or should I say, Maxwell Demon!” In the ensuing Q&A, Brian gives details about his relationship with his wife and his sexual orientation; outsiders (in this clip, the media) are now forced to consider that the stage persona is not entirely put on, but that Brian is Maxwell.

Haynes uses parallel editing in this clip to draw a connection between Brian Slade and Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale), the reporter investigating Slade’s disappearance from the public spotlight. The cut to the second audience member to ask a question is grainy and distorted; a cut to Stuart’s eyes reveals that he is watching the “Pick of the Pops” interview on live television. Slade’s wide-eyed, innocent look as he says “I mean, everybody knows that most people are bisexual” mirrors Stuart’s eyes as he looks up at his parents for approval. The parents, however, appear to be just as disapproving as the television audience is of Slade. A low angle, medium shot of Stuart’s parents, mother with crossed arms and father looking over the top of his glasses, prevents Stuart from living out his fantasy: jumping up and down and pointing at the television, shouting “That’s me!”

For Slade, embracing his rock ‘n’ roll stage persona and merging his two identities – the repressed, unsuccessful Brian Slade and the sexually liberated pop star Maxwell Demon – is the key to constructing his image and achieving his goals. As Haynes suggests with the “passing of the pin,” however, this avenue is only available to a fortunate few. Most others, like Arthur Stuart, suffer in silence under the disapproval and the expectations of others.

Makeup, Sexuality and the Mask of Celebrity

by Kacey Liebes

Todd Haynes’s Velvet Goldmine shows the rise and fall of glam-rocker Brian Slade. Through this narrative, Haynes addresses the nature of celebrity, and the ways in which questions of sexuality can relate to celebrity image. This clip marks the beginning of Slade’s rapid career trajectory, it is the moment he has his coming out with news outlets. The first question Brian answers at the press conference is about makeup. Slade responds by essentially saying that rock ’n’ roll is itself a mask. The second question he is asked is about his sexuality. These two questions are not independent, as the second reporter specifically asks if the makeup does not, “give the wrong impression.” In the minds of the press, and presumably much of the general British population, the makeup signifies homosexuality. This link is reflected back in the rainbow eye shadow Mandy wears. Though the rainbow flag would not have been created until later in the decade, the symbol is easily recognized by many contemporary viewers.

Slade and those around him use the conflation of makeup and assumption of homosexuality to their advantage. The public discussion of Slade’s sexuality is not meant to inform, but to shock. Sexual fluidity is as much a part of the Maxwell Demon persona as the makeup and glitter. This is not to say bisexuality is not a part of Slade’s personal identity, but that that sexual identity is intentionally used to enhance his celebrity image. Newspaper headlines that report Slade’s gay activity flash over a hand laying down record deals, followed by the camera tilting up to reveal the hand belonging to a triumphant Jerry Devine, Slade’s manager. The public’s fascination with Slade’s sexuality is making him famous, and making him and those around him rich.

In the next scene, Devine is talking to a group of people, and tells them that their job is to make Slade famous in the United States. They are to, “put on a show.” These individuals are mostly members of the LGBTQ community. At this point, Devine is specifically and intentionally using that community, via Slade’s public identity, to promote the artist in a new market. The hunt for celebrity, in this case, turns a marginalized identity into a constructed celebrity persona.

Rock 'n' roll is a prostitute

In this scene from Todd Haynes' film Velvet Goldmine, the character Brian Slade begins to assume his rock 'n' roll persona--Maxwell Demon--as he presents himself to the media and to a broader audience.

from Velvet Goldmine (1998)
Creator: Todd Haynes
Distributor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Posted by Michelle Robinson
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