First Look – Todd Haynes Documentary The Velvet Underground
The velvet metro begins with a quote from the French poet Charles Baudelaire: “Music probes the sky. That doesn’t explain much about the next two hours, but it makes it clear that director Todd Haynes views the group from the perspective of a fellow artist rather than an archivist.
The director of I am not here try to understand what the Velvets reached rather than expose the facts of or and when they did it. Which is just as good, as Velvets’ history is notoriously slippery. After all, this is a band whose careers have gone through many twists and turns and challenges that could have killed less stubborn bands: when John Cale was fired, when Sterling Morrison ran away, when Lou reed stop and when Maureen Tucker finally left Doug yule tour the group in nominative form to UK students on a university tour in 1973.
Haynes opens his film on familiar ground. We are given the contrasting stories of Reed (the troubled teenage rock’n’roller from Brooklyn who thought he was going to score a Billboard hit with a novelty dance tune called “The Ostrich”) and Cale (the classically trained Welshman whose head has been turned by the avant-garde movement). Around them, the gang of unlikely bed-mates quickly unite – Tucker, then Morrison, then Nico, whose introduction by the manager Andy warhol turned out to be a stroke of genius. Much as Warhol polarized pop culture, the Velvets and their entourage seemed to settle in direct contrast to the dominant vibes of the late ’60s. As the Age of Aquarius reached its peak, the group’s choice of clothing and clothing. black shades sent a clear message to the generation of love. “Burn your bra?” »Sneers Marie Woronov, one of Warhol’s Superstars. “What’s wrong with you?” “
The account is provided by interviews with eyewitnesses. In addition to the surviving band members Cale, Tucker and Yule (the voices of Reed and Morrison are also present), Haynes brings together friends, family, fans and fellow travelers, including the avant-garde film archivist. Jonas Mekas, sister of Reed Merrill, composer La Monte Jeune and Jonathan richman – who says he must have seen the group “60 or 70 times”.
Haynes immerses us in a mind-boggling archive – including Warhol’s studied screentests of empty, bored band faces, rehearsal sequences, poetry readings, tapes of conversations. He manipulates this material like an underground movie from a 1960s art lab, frequently using a split screen, lens flare, and pinion holes – much like the films of Jack smith, Kenneth Anger and Bruce conner, whose work he samples. But there is a strange paradox here. After claiming solidarity with the outside artists of his time – he names the writers Hubert Selby Jr, William burroughs and Jean Rechy – Reed apparently develops issues with his band getting too present, shooting Warhol first, then Cale and looking for a smoother, more intimate sound. Post-Cale, Reed will attempt to break through California and – a far worse crime – let the group appear in the light of day wearing floral shirts (in some ways the film could be interpreted as a Joker-style of Lou Reed’s origins).
Either way, the end was clearly in sight. As one interviewee wisely explains, the secret to the band’s music was its simplicity – they never added, only subtracted, and didn’t record anything they couldn’t play live. The same, rather sad thing is true of the band itself – which ended with a series of subtractions until there were none left, like that. It’s to Haynes’ credit that he doesn’t try to romanticize their failure (Tucker says she thought Verve only signed them “to keep us off the streets”), but instead tries to put the viewer in his head, as if he is hearing their music for the first time. It’s a bold move – but, perhaps unsurprisingly for a filmmaker operating at Haynes’ level, it works.
The Velvet Underground is screened out of competition at the 74th Cannes Film Festival this year; it will air on Apple TV + later this year