thu 20/06/2024

The Velvet Underground review - Todd Haynes tunnels through band history | reviews, news & interviews

The Velvet Underground review - Todd Haynes tunnels through band history

The Velvet Underground review - Todd Haynes tunnels through band history

Ingeniously composed documentary portrait, with John Cale the definitive star

Moe Tucker, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed

Todd Haynes’ documentary about the Velvet Underground has to be one of the better uses of time by a film-maker during the Covid pandemic. He spent lockdown putting the film together with a team of archivists and editors working remotely. It’s a beautifully shot and ingeniously collaged portrait of the decadent New York band which weaves together an extraordinary wealth of archive footage and some choice and apposite interviews. 

Unlike recent music documentaries which have had a tendency to corral extraneous talking heads singing the praises of their subjects a little too loudly (The Sparks Brothers in particular, but also Summer of Soul), Haynes only puts on screen the band members and those who collaborated or knew them well. The interviews with the two surviving members were shot pre-Covid by Todd Haynes’ regular cinematographer, the great Ed Lachman, who knows how to light and frame an iconic face.

The Welsh composer/multi-instrumentalist John Cale is the definitive star of the documentary with his unflinching recall of the highs and lows of the band, but it’s also great to hear from Maureen "Moe" Tucker, the percussionist. Reed and Nico are present in archive interviews, with sly emphasis on Reed's ambitions to be a rich rockstar. Haynes has had full access to the Andy Warhol films from the days when the Velvet Underground was the Factory's house band with German chanteuse Nico competing with Reed for the spotlight.Velvet UndergroundHe deploys this footage with choice cuts from a rich archive that includes Cale on I've Got a Secret, a cheesy American quiz show from the 60s, being teased by celebrities about his minimalist drone concerts with The Theatre of Eternal Music. Haynes and his editing team cram the screen with images – not just split screen but at one point (pictured above), as many as 12 frames play simultaneously. The result is a rich, intriguing documentary that will sustain repeated viewings and play well alongside his 2007 Bob Dylan film, I’m Not There.

Haynes has had full access to the Andy Warhol films from the days when the Velvet Underground was the Factory's house band

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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