In the pantheon of ’60s rock bands, the Velvet Underground are something of a black sheep – unpopular, grungy, and stranger than the Beatles or Stones. All the same, they wield as much influence as any other single musical group of the bountiful era, and their legacy is still taking shape as the members and their fans age into history.
Todd Haynes’ new documentary, simply titled The Velvet Underground, compiles a record of the band’s hectic heyday and their lingering legend with a combination of archival footage and new interviews. We’d be hard-pressed to think of someone better-suited to the job than the director of Velvet Goldmine and I’m Not There, two of the most astute movies about music and the people making it in recent memory.
Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Maureen “Moe” Tucker started a small revolution in downtown Manhattan, spinning the filth and depravity of the city into coarse, clever songs ranging from pop ditties to droning psychedelic epics. With just a small handful of albums, most notably including their collaboration with the German artist and Andy Warhol affiliate Nico, they inspired everyone from David Bowie to Ian Curtis.
In his review from the premiere at Cannes earlier this year, our man on the scene Michael Leader wrote positively of the film: “…Haynes finds an enthralling middle ground between hero worship and ambivalence. There’s no thrill, no intrigue in hagiography. It’s the music, and where it takes you, what it opens up for you, that’s the thing.”
While the promise of up-close-and-personal filmstrip footage of the elusive band will be enough to draw plenty of obsessives, the present-day talking-head segments with Tucker about her memories of the late Reed lend a tone of the elegiac to the film. They were just too good to last – the beginning of American alternative music.
The Velvet Underground comes to Apple TV and select cinemas in the US on 15 October.
Published 30 Aug 2021
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