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He's not there: velvet goldmine and the spectral Bowie persona
conference contributionposted on 2014-06-21, 00:00 authored by Glenn D'Cruz
In broad terms, this paper examines what I call Todd Haynes' 'hauntological' approach to the celebrity biopic. More specifically, it focuses on Velvet Goldmine (1998) and argues that Haynes represents Bowie's Ziggy Stardust persona as a series of phantoms in the Derridean sense. That is, figures that are both absent and present, material and immaterial— figures that affirm that no identity can ever be quite complete since the markers of identity are always enmeshed in a network of differences that can be continually re-coded. Haynes' original script contained several Bowie songs, which he was forced to replace when Bowie refused to give him permission to use the music (Bowie claimed he intended to make his own film about his Ziggy Stardust period). Undeterred, Haynes produced a movie that made no direct reference to Bowie by name, yet recoded Bowie's multiple personas and characters in a parallel cinematic world. Haynes' film invites the spectator to re-think Identity in terms of 'contamination' and 'inauthenticity'. He also establishes a genealogical connection between Oscar Wilde (one of the film's many spectres) and Bowie by making several allusions to the parallels between 19th century aestheticism and Glam Rock. In short, I argue that Haynes' film facilitates a critique of the idea that Bowie's shifting identity is merely a question of aesthetic choice, or an expression of any kind of cultural logic. Rather, I argue that the figure of the Derridean phantom offers a new way to read Velvet Goldmine, and to identify the cultural work performed by Bowie's Ziggy Stardust persona.