Director Todd Haynes breaks down Velvet Goldmine's 'That's me!' moment
Even if it's not quite the Leonardo DiCaprio pointing meme, a kindred flash of self-recognition from the 1998 glam fantasia Velvet Goldmine — Christian Bale jumping up and down in front of a TV and exclaiming "That's me!" — has found love online. It's almost certainly more famous than the movie itself, though to judge from recent sold-out anniversary screenings at the Tribeca Festival and Portland's Hollywood Theatre, the film's 24-year-old fandom is only growing.
"I love it," says director Todd Haynes to EW about his mini meme moment. "It's so weird, such an out-of-body thing, when movies take on a life like that. With Velvet Goldmine, I wanted to make the kind of movie that I would watch in high school with friends, and then you'd stay up all night, analyzing it. Then you'd get the soundtrack, and you'd play it all the time. I really think Velvet Goldmine has become that for a lot of people. And that couldn't mean more to me — that just makes me so happy."
In his recent career conversation with EW on the occasion of 30 years of New Queer Cinema, Haynes spoke about his attempts to expand the parameters of what gay cinema could be, and where it could roam. Velvet Goldmine, about a thinly veiled David Bowie-like pop star but also glam's wider sexual awakening, was an opportunity for boundary-pushing.
"It's about how popular culture can seep into our internal lives and our fantasies and our desires, in ways that are often transgressive and provocative and dangerous," the director says of his film. "It unlocks illicit feelings."
As for the scene itself, Haynes remembers hearing about the real-life anecdote from an artist friend. Too juicy to pass up, it went right into his original screenplay.
"He described watching Bowie — I don't remember if it was literally a press conference, but it was something on TV — with his little suburban family, and he wanted to leap up and say, 'That's me,'" the director says. "I think we've all felt versions of that. What's interesting is the way pride is so interwoven with feelings of shame. You can't have pride without understanding shame."
Bale, who plays a journalist, Arthur, with deep, unreconciled connections to the glitter-rock explosion, sells the flashback completely, transforming into a geeky teenager by dint of sheer conviction. Haynes calls the actor exceptional.
"He entered into Arthur without being Method-y in a narcissistic or indulgent way," Haynes says. "He wasn't that. That character came directly out of this time, when the fan was given a special role to play. And Christian was our way into that. He represented us, and he represented me, and he represented you. And that's why I felt the closest to him, as that character, and as that vehicle in the movie. Christian was just so lovely."
Haynes describes the Velvet Goldmine shoot as a tough one. "Christine [Vachon, the filmmaker's longtime producer] and I basically hosted a party for the cast and crew, but we didn't have time to join it," he recalls. "We had a very ambitious movie with a low budget, and it was hard. It was a grueling production. But we knew that we were at least getting good material: the most amazing clothing and hair and costumes and actors and music, all that stuff. So that was evident every day. There were just always 10 more crises to handle."
Even with the pressures of completion bearing down on the filmmaking team, Haynes remembers a kind comment from Bale, who revealed to him that he shed a few tears saying goodbye to Arthur. "He told Christine later, 'I have a feeling this wasn't an easy production for you, but I never felt it.'" Haynes says. "And she took that as a real compliment, as a producer, to let the actors really feel that they could enter this world, and not just while they were shooting, but on the weekends, too."
Bale and Haynes would eventually reteam for the experimental 2007 Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There, and Haynes says he'd work again with the actor "in a nanosecond." They've been in touch on and off over the years, leaving the door open.
One recent encounter at the 2016 Academy Awards sounds legendary, the way Haynes tells it.
"Carol was losing all of our nominations in BAFTAs and all the other things we got nominated for, and at a certain point, I was like, 'Cate [Blanchett], should I keep coming to these things?'" the director recalls. "And she's like, 'Yes, always — being gracious is really important.'"
Haynes took the wisdom to heart, especially when Blanchett called him with a special opportunity. "She invited me as her guest to the Oscars," Haynes says. "So we sat in the front row. I sat in between Cate and Leo [DiCaprio], in the front row. But just down the row was Christian, on one side. And just down the row on the other side, was Julianne Moore. I felt like I had my whole history of partners in the first row of the Oscars. It was pretty sweet."
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