Todd Haynes documentary Velvet Underground breathes new life into beloved band

This approach was partly out of necessity. Warhol, who was VU’s first manager and benefactor, was an obsessive documentary maker of the world around him, and yet there is very little traditional footage from the band. There are clips of members lounging around the factory and plenty of photos, but the group has rarely been filmed performing. The velvet metro solves this problem by using other works of art of the time. There is so much to see here, with Haynes’ team allegedly allowing two and a half hours of moving footage for a two hour film. Frequent use of the split screen puts new interviews with Cale, Tucker and others in conversation with the work of contemporaries such as photographer Stephen Shore, the godfather of American avant-garde cinema Jonas Mekas and the “Papa”. »Of minimalist music, La Monte Jeune. A crash course in the history of mid-1960s art, the film takes the group back to their original artistic context. The most poignant use of the archival footage comes from Warhol’s screen tests, the silent video portraits in which subjects had to stay still and not blink. The result is deeply poetic: As Reed’s sister, Merrill Reed Weiner, describes her brother’s unstable youth, Reed, in his twenties, looks back, gazing into the void of his own unease.

Warhol saw the group as a vehicle to combine music, art and film in great multimedia extravaganza and envisioned Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a series where the Velvets performed alongside dancers, performance artists, video projections and a spectacular light show. But the Factory’s focus on appearance, according to film critic Amy Taubin, who posed for Warhol, created a “damaging” environment in which women were celebrated for their outward image, not necessarily for their talent. . This attitude inspired Warhol to add an attractive German singer and actress named Nico to the group, against Reed’s wishes. (“The band needed something nice to counter the kind of garish ugliness they were trying to sell,” Factory filmmaker Paul Morrissey once said). Of course, Nico had the last laugh and turned out to be more than a muse. While these points are (hopefully) familiar to anyone who has studied Warhol and his scene, they are worth repeating considering how often the Factory is fictionalized.

The velvet metro eventually ventured out of the New York bubble when the group visited Los Angeles in 1966. With their dazzling expressions and slim all-black outfits, the Velvets contrasted sharply with the whimsical flower children who preached all that “love of peace.” As Tucker growls deliciously in the movie. “We hated it, get real. Cale offers a more thoughtful theory of their philosophical differences: The hippie scene avoided “how great the danger was,” he says. “If you are in this world, you do not recognize danger for the value it has.” Flirting with danger was the Velvet Underground’s natural way; they get their name from a paperback book on sexual taboos, and their early songs are candid about sadomasochism, drugs, and drug addiction. Music itself thrives when drone, distortion, and out of tune guitars merge into a violent uncertainty that erupts into transcendence. As Cale puts it in the movie, “There has always been a standard that was kind of set for how to be stylish and how to be brutal.”

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