Stories might be best told in certain media, but their reflections are ever-refractable: a lyric written in the back of an image puts a song into an imaginary world, a game cabinet in the background of a scene tweaks your understanding of the character who owns it. So, I’m going to talk about a film for you, before I explain why, with a comic.
Velvet Goldmine was a lifeblood film of mine, from when I was fourteen to seventeen or so. I rediscover it now and then, and it doesn’t ease. I don’t die for it all day any more; on the other hand, I’m no longer trapped in teenager hell. Velvet Goldmine is a David Bowie story without ever saying his name: it’s about an anonymous white child in industrial England who puts on a show and makes it his identity. It’s a glam rock film (that’s British glam, mind you; KISS is not in consideration here) about glamour appropriated by the hopeless and helpless, about image, as salvation and curse. It’s a film about me and a film about a number of my friends, and perhaps you don’t know it yet, kid, but it could be a film about you.
Velvet Goldmine stars Christian Bale, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Ewan McGregor, and in two separate couple-formations, these men kiss and hump each other. That’s just a little tip, from me to you.
Christian Bale plays his young self and his adult self, while Rhys Meyers plays the timeless star: a glittering phenom who fakes his own death, the object of young Bale’s lust and adult Bale’s journalistic assignment. McGregor is Hot Iggy Pop, a Kurt Cobain who lived, heyday transposed to the glorious and cruel mid-seventies. Each character, at some point, is empowered and enriched by their ownership of the mystic gem that came down from space with the baby Oscar Wilde (the film is on par with Moulin Rouge for lushness and whimsy, but edges it out on alien inclusion).
It’s a film that flexes a decent-sized philosophical muscle; emotions go up and down, possibility is celebrated and then corrupted, and success and lifestyles soar and crash. But I can’t help but be shored and warmed every time, because it captures that visceral late for an appointment I don’t want to go to, but fuck it, I’ve got this coffee and I look good as heck, and later maybe I can make some art out of all this swagger that I’ve known so well. Some people can’t help but be sort of fierce in the knowledge that it’s good to be alive and that all experiences are fun, even grotty misery, even if your despair is also true. Velvet Goldmine recognises you in that wicked satisfaction. Counter-intuitive or not, that recognition is a relief and a strength (it maybe even lets you keep that joie de vivre). It’s a wheel-change on this high-speed, infinite loop of life.
The same can be said of Paradise Kiss. Paradise Kiss is a manga by Yazawa Ai, and I always knew I wanted to read it. Tokyopop started putting out translated tankobon in 2000, when I had just reached the peak-high plateau of my teenage fandom access. Cool girls who knew a bit more than me liked Paradise Kiss, and I could see the art for myself (gorgeous). But it was out of reach for me, and I never even touched a volume until this week when I found four out of five, for a fiver, second hand. Now I’m dying a death, because I needed this book then. I needed it when I was in a high-pressure over-achieving learning environment, like protagonist Yukari. I needed it when I was inclined towards art and practically applied skills instead of academic grades, but found no validation of that identity in my grammar school sixth form. I needed it when I thought that I was lazy, because I wanted to draw instead of study.
I needed it because it wasn’t until I read the first volume of Paradise Kiss, at twenty eight, that I realised that somehow I had managed to look down upon my efforts at that time, and not even seen them as effort, and thought that I didn’t know how to try. I was Yukari and Team Paradise both, and I didn’t get to see that until now. By now, I’ve healed over all of those hurts, and made a new model of effort for myself. I’m different. I’m another me. I don’t remember when I last drew a picture.
Paradise Kiss is a medic’s toolkit, just like Velvet Goldmine is a pit stop. It’s a source of pleasant marvel that ParaKiss volume one comes with a Velvet Goldmine quotation on the back cover. It’s a bittersweet heartache that when I stumbled across the visual kickback, the wink from Ai to me, I still got it. Immediately. With all my heart.
There’s a scene in Velvet Goldmine where the young Brian Slade, not yet a superstar, is just a half-mod, half-rocker young shag-chaser. He leans against a wall, schoolboys file past. The last one in line (toying with a very fine pocket watch) catches Brian’s eye … and the boy … looks back. Editor does their job and we cut to the same boy (surely not more than fifteen) face down on a single bed, bare bum in the air, school uniform still otherwise on. Brian takes the pocket watch and leaves, stigma and questions wafting gently in his wake.
For Yukari, George is offering a Faustian bargain of his own. His proffered modelling job and new set of peers are frightening and new to her, a departure from the rules of her current life and against the wishes of her family. Spoilers: Yukari takes the gig, gets kicked out of her house, sees her grades fall further, and she and George have sex (her first). At this point in the story, he’s a threat and a powerful temptation (what would Oscar say?). I want to go back in time, please. I want to give this moment to my teenaged self. I want her to have that!
Of course, she can’t.