Velvet Goldmine - The Exotic, Foreign Cut (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Update 5/20/16: Complete overhaul! This was an early piece that didn't really fit into what became the DVDExotica style. It was more just an article I wrote about the longer, foreign cut of the film. Well, that's all still in here of course, but not it's also a proper comparison of the foreign DVD and the newer blu-ray. And, I've gone and found a copy of the original US DVD, and thrown that into the mix, too. Now we've got proper screenshots, a comparison of the differing extras... everything you should be able to consistently expect from DVDExotica - enjoy!  =)
I first read about a longer or alternate cut of Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine years ago. I searched around a lot, but the references to it online were slim enough that I couldn't even be sure they were talking about anything that had been publicly released, or even genuinely seen by anybody. After all, you'll see a lot of talk online about a longer, British cut of Kimberly Peirce's Boys Don't Cry. But that's a myth (and one I went to considerable lengths to investigate), and I feared the same might be true here. Thankfully, however, there was more truth to these rumors.
Velvet Goldmine is like somebody made a first class film based on a piece of fan fiction rather than a traditional Hollywood screenplay. A young fan gets caught up in a crazy love triangle with Britain's two biggest rock stars and watches their artistic careers twist and unfold around him like a magical music video. Larger than life performances by John Rhys Meyers, Ewan McGregor and Eddie Izzard collide beautifully with more grounded, humanistic portrayals by Christian Bale and Toni Collete. It's touchingly real yet epically fanciful at the same time, and it's got a truly impressive catalog of original music.

And it's longer in the UK.
Not only a delightfully designed shot, but one unseen in the USA.
I don't know that it's any better, however. It's actually a bit hard to make a call for either cut over the other. The US cut seems mostly to have been trimmed for pacing... probably an "Americans have short attention spans" thing. The very opening shot, where the camera pans down through the stars, into the smoke, and finally to the UFO leaving Oscar Wilde at his family's home (yeah, if you haven't seen Velvet Goldmine, it's an interesting picture), is longer in the UK cut, panning through a lot more stars before arriving at anything substantial. But not everything trimmed feels as much like excess fat as that.

One difference that will matter a lot to some people is that this European cut has additional nudity. There's also more dialogue, more musical performance, and even a little physical comedy.
ibid.
Another key change isn't about the inclusion of absent material, but a change in its placement. I won't get spoiler-y here, so suffice it to say that Bale's character learns a big secret about another character towards the end of the film. The scene when he learns this secret has been moved, which greatly changes the dynamic of where he talks to another character. In one version he knows this big secret is looking to confront him about it... in the other, he hasn't figured it out yet and is just innocently looking to have a conversation.

And again, I'll avoid spoilers, but one of the final shots of the film has been shortened in such a way that it changes a lot about what the film is saying, at least about one of the major characters. It's only maybe one single second of missing footage; but it's kind of a big deal.
So Velvet Goldmine was first released on DVD in the USA by Miramax in 1999.  There are some variant covers for it as it's been repressed a few different times (one has a big "WIDESCREEN" banner across the top; another has a quote from Rolling Stone instead of The New York Times on the front), but it's all the same, barebones disc.And in the UK, Film Four has repressed it with a variant cover or two, too. I can't speak for all of them for certain, but I have the 2001 pressing with the cover shown above, and that definitely has the extended cut and other assorted improvements we'll look at below. They probably all do, but the 2001 is the only one I can personally absolutely vouch for. Then, finally, Miramax and Lionsgate teamed up to give this the HD blu-ray treatment in 2011. I've got that one here, too; so let's see how they stack up.
1999 US Miramax DVD top; 2001 UK Film Four UK DVD mid; 2011 US Lionsgate blu bottom.
The place to begin, I suppose, is the US disc and it's non-anamorphic glory. The UK disc is a big improvement, not just in terms of being anamorphic (but that's pretty important) but in having a clearer, dirt and scratches cleaned up, less smudgy picture and more information along the sides. The US DVD is slightly more matted 1.85:1, while the UK DVD is 1.79:1. In the second set of shots, we see the hint of a prop on the far left of the UK DVD, and the bottom of Meyer's shoes, both of which are absent on the US DVD. The blu-ray, surprisingly, is somewhere in the middle. Still fuller than the US DVD at 1.78:1, we see more info than the US DVD, but not quite as much as the UK DVD. It also has the dirt specs cleaned up (note the one floating to the far lower left of Meyers on the US DVD), and minimal detail improvement. I'd say we're getting the benefit of this transfer being put on an HD disc, but not a more detailed base transfer.

The UK DVD actually stands out the most for having bluer color timing. The blu stays closer to the original US DVD in that regard. It looks more accurate, but I can't say either one played a big difference in my enjoyment of the film. It's more of a subtle, arbitrary distinction when you don't have them up on the same screen like this.

Both DVDs come standard with a 5.1 mix, but the UK DVD also gives a 2.0 Surround track as a second option. Meanwhile, it doesn't have any subtitles, which the US DVD does. But of course the blu-ray trumps them both here, with a 5.1 DTS-HD Track, plus optional English, Spanish and English SDH subtitles.
And the other thing this film has going for it is an exclusive 25 minute documentary called Behind the Glam and the Glitter. It does come off rather promotional, especially at the beginning, but it's got great behind-the-scenes footage and on-set interviews where everyone participates, all the stars, Haynes, Christine Vachon, Michael Stipe, David Hoyle, the production designer and even the costume designer and the make-up people. And while the soundbites seem quick and breezy at first, we keep returning to them and it starts to get fairly in depth. It also has a weird "Photo Gallery," which is actually a 3 minute video reel of the lead actors set to one of the songs from the film, plus the theatrical and teaser trailers. The US DVD only had the one trailer and a basic insert with chapter titles.

The newer blu-ray also only has the one trailer, but it also includes a brand new audio commentary, which is quite good, by Haynes and Vachon. However, they still inexplicably left the doc of, which is a little frustrating. If you want everything, you have to get more than one disc.
So between the alternate cut and the doc, I think Goldmine fans will want to check the Film Four DVD out. Too bad it's only been released on DVD; since the US cut has that fancy new blu-ray. OH WAIT! For a final bit of good news, apparently the European cut has been issued on blu-ray in France a couple years ago. It has the documentary as an extra (along with the trailer), but not the commentary... possibly just because the commentary wouldn't sync up to this version, or maybe they couldn't license it. Anyway, it's a nice HD alternative to the UK DVD. And the fact that this version is also still circulating really makes me wonder which is Haynes' preferred cut. But at least we fans have the option to decide for ourselves either way.
That's it for my spoiler-free review, but if die-hard fans care to dig in even deeper, here are my notes on all of the differences between the two cuts.

00:00 The very opening shot pans down through a lot more stars before hitting the smoke.

55:30 After the photo shoot, we get shots and dialogue of Eddie Izzard's fabulous secretaries (seen in some of the screenshots above) talking about how Meyers' character is the biggest thing in rock and roll. Eventually the camera settles on Izzard at his desk, which is where the US version starts the scene.

57:30 The UK version has a lot more of the rock band playing in the club where Meyers meets McGregor.

69:50 There is more drunken orgy, with two nude girls pulling McGregor across the room by his belt.

74:40 There is more dialogue between Collette and Bale, before both versions cut to the bartender ("I knew, for all practical purposes, that my time with Brian was up"). And, at the end of that scene...

76:00 ...the final lines of the scene are spoken directly in the UK version, but in the US version they're used as voice-over on top of footage of McGregor in the recording booth.

79:00 We see Collette walk out of the studio. She's surprised to see Meyers throw open the window above her, and then McGregor rush past her out the other door. The US version starts on the shot of McGregor directly after he's rushed by her, and then shows Meyers throwing open the window, and misses the initial shot of Collette walking out, followed by an amusing few seconds of the window falling back down on Meyers back while he's leaning out of it. Then, in the UK version, the scene ends with additional narration by Collette that carries over into the next scene ("then, when it all came crashing down, I just watched the scene end... just like everybody else"). The US version has the music, but not the narration over the scene.

85:00 Collette walks through Meyers' disheveled office, the floor covered in newspapers, before she comes upon him and his lover on the mattress, which is where the US version starts the scene.

92:00 A whole scene where Bale calls McGregor from a payphone asking for an interview is removed. McGregor pretends he's not himself and refuses the interview. When he hangs up we see two men in suits are staring McGregor down. Then both versions cut to the shot of Bale looking at himself in the mirror. In the US version, this scene doesn't appear until AFTER Bale has realized the secret of "Tommy Stone."

94:30 There's a shot of Bale running up the hallway missing from the US version.

95:30 There's a shot of Bale on the balcony that dissolves into McGregor's stage performance. In the US version, we dissolve to that performance from Bale hanging up the payphone at the end of the moved scene.

102:30 There are additional opening lines to Meyers' song spoken over a much longer zoom out from Bale under the stardust.

106:15 Meyers' dressing room is cleared of a crowd of people before the scene begins.

113:15 As the camera pans lovingly over the stars' faces projected onto the walls of the final concert as a sort of ethereal curtain call, the UK version shows four faces, including Collette in pink. The US version cuts her image out, making her not as important as the other three.

3 comments:

  1. When you reference "Davies" in the summary, do you mean to say "Meyers?"

    Also, may I ask the source of your remarkable home page cover photo?

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    Replies
    1. Oh yeah! That's so weird, where did I get the name Davies from? Yeah, I definitely meant Meyers; I'll correct that. But that's so weird, I'm puzzled now... haha

      And the cover photo is a (somewhat reworked, of course) image from Eric Rohmer's Perceval.

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  2. The French Blu-ray looks and sounds amazing. I've had the UK dvd for many years and treasured it wholeheartedly. The only reason to bother with the USA Blu-ray is for the commentary. By the way, the packaging for the French bd is great! Would love to include a photo, but don't see an option to do so here.

    Cheers!
    >^..^<

    ReplyDelete