Todd Haynes ‘The Velvet Underground’ Documentary Marries Cinematic Ambition With A Fan’s Affection

As Brian Eno famously said, The Velvet Underground didn’t promote many information however everybody who purchased one began a band. The saying shortly turned a rock critic cliche ascribed to any band whose creative affect outweighed their industrial efficiency. Nevertheless, that was earlier than Nirvana and The Strokes and St. Vincent and Lil Nas X. In a world the place so many boundaries have been damaged down it’s typically onerous to recollect how the subtlest deviation from the standard programming as soon as produced shockwaves. I’m clearly not speaking about The Velvet Underground right here, as nothing they ever did was refined, not even after they turned down their amps.

Filmmaker Todd Haynes’ new documentary, The Velvet Underground, premiered on Apple TV+ final week and is a reminder of the whole lot that made the band cool and attention-grabbing and groundbreaking within the first place. Haynes tackles the subject material with a fan’s devotion, just like his fictionalized riffs on ’70s glam rock in 1998’s Velvet Goldmine and Bob Dylan in 2007’s I’m Not There. No mere chronicle of the group’s lifespan or retrospective testimonial, Haynes ambitiously tries to deliver the band and their environment again to life, making in depth use of experimental cinematic methods and the artwork movies of onetime-Velvets supervisor Andy Warhol.

Haynes focuses on the band’s early incarnation, constructed across the twin creative towers of Lou Reed and John Cale. Whereas Reed wrote taboo tomes about drug use, drag queens, and dysfunction, Cale pushed their music to noisy extremes. In a sure sense, the complete historical past of the band is advised from Cale’s perspective. As considered one of three surviving members of the band, his interviews make up the majority of the movie’s narrative and supply precious insights and context.

Picture: ©Apple TV/Courtesy Everett Assortment

We first see Cale in an archival interview, attempting to clarify avant-garde classical music to a room stuffed with normies. On the opposite aspect of a cut up display screen, we hear Lou Reed speak concerning the ’50s rock n’ roll that made him decide up the guitar. Cale’s father was a coal miner. Reed’s was an accountant. The place Cale studied music, Reed studied literature in between visits to psychological establishments, homosexual bars, and cop spots uptown. “He was simply organising a state of affairs the place then he would have materials to write down about,” opines school girlfriend Shelly Corwin.

Reed and Cale would cross paths in New York within the early Sixties. “Holy shit. This place is filthy,” was Cale’s first impression of the town. Whereas he hobnobbed in avant garde musical circles, Reed wrote novelty songs for a fledgling file label. In forming The Velvet Underground, they teamed up with lead guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, one of many first feminine musicians – not to mention drummers – in a notable rock band till the late ’70s. From the outset they mated excessive falootin’ musical and lyrical concepts with the lowbrow stomp of the basest rock n’ roll, making a template copied by numerous bands, punk or in any other case. “There was at all times an ordinary that was type of set for methods to be elegant and methods to be brutal,” says Cale.

The band turned a fixture of The Manufacturing facility, Andy Warhol’s studio and a gathering spot for his entourage. Warhol turned the group’s supervisor, put in Germanic magnificence Nico as their lead singer, and scored them a file deal. “It’s nearly like they signed us to get us off the streets,” says Maureen Tucker. Warhol put the band on tour as a part of his Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a combined media revue that includes music, artwork, dancers and light-weight exhibits. The reception was lower than ecstatic, particularly on the hippie-centric West Coast. “I hope you fuckers bomb,” promoter Invoice Graham advised the band after they performed his membership, the Fillmore West. The sensation was mutual. “This peace and love crap, we hated that. Get actual,” says Tucker.

Reed got here to resent being perpetually related to Warhol and, after two albums stiffed on the registers, fired him as supervisor. “Individuals thought Andy Warhol was the lead guitarist,” he says dismissively. Cale was on the chopping block quickly as properly. “I actually didn’t know to please him,” Cale says, “…attempt to be good and he’d hate you extra.” Tucker says Reed needed real pop success and made their music “extra regular.” Younger fan Doug Yuletide got here in on bass and vocals. The band’s self-titled third album discovered them enjoying in hushed tones, a sound that reverberates via indie rock to this present day and a shocking distinction to the cacophony of their earlier efforts.

By the point The Velvet Underground recorded 1970’s Loaded, Tucker was away on maternity depart and Morrison was principally absent, having enrolled in grad faculty. Reed’s songs have been nonetheless stuffed with the identical sophisticated, broken characters however you could possibly sing together with them. Reed would give up the band earlier than the album’s launch, disillusioned with the band’s fortunes after a 9 week residency at Max’s Kansas Metropolis. He would transfer again to his mother or father’s dwelling on Lengthy Island to lick his wounds earlier than launching his solo profession.

Some have criticized The Velvet Underground for being too arty or for under interesting to followers of the band. I believe that’s form of the purpose of each the movie and the band itself. My solely criticism is Haynes rushes via the post-Cale years as they clearly maintain much less enchantment to him than the Warhol-era, however that’s a fan’s criticism. I really choose the later information. In the end, Haynes captures the attract of the band, their thriller, their artistry, and their skill to enchantment to these on the lookout for one thing greater than mainstream fodder. As singer-songwriter and VU fan Jonathan Richman says of his first time listening to the group, “These individuals would perceive me.”

Benjamin H. Smith is a New York based mostly author, producer and musician. Observe him on Twitter: @BHSmithNYC.

Watch The Velvet Underground on Apple TV+ | Todd Haynes ‘The Velvet Underground’ Documentary Marries Cinematic Ambition With A Fan’s Affection


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