The Velvet Underground
There has been a slew of quality music documentaries over the past few years, from Asif Kapadia’s Amy to Andrew Dominik’s One More Time with Feeling, which studies Nick Cave’s personal loss. New to the list is The Velvet Underground by Todd Haynes (whose documentary Velvet Goldmine won the Special Jury Prize for Best Artistic Contribution at Cannes in 1998). Contrasting with the two aforementioned films, this title doesn’t take such an emotionally intricate approach, instead looking at the band in their time and place – 1970s New York, when drugs were everywhere and Andy Warhol ran the town.
The feature follows the rise of the rock group from their formation, also going into detail about the childhoods and upbringings of Lou Reed and John Cale, whose Welsh nationalist grandmother banned English in his house for the first few years of his life despite his father being an Englishman. The film takes the approach of joining the dots together, exploring how the members came together and how they were so influential yet so subtle about it. It also explores the difference in culture between LA and New York, with drummer Maureen Tucker still expressing her disdain for hippie culture, 50 years on.
Haynes pushes the boundaries set by modern documentaries, using split screens and relying mostly on voice overs, with sparing on-camera interviews. The work captures the hypnotic feel of 1970s New York and the music of Reed’s band pulling the audience into an acid trip with vibrant colours, rotating angles and the sound of psychedelic America. The title also does not refrain from showcasing the darker side to this world, discussing the objectification of women and how their looks were their only currency, a hardship that people like to forget when feeling nostalgic and idolising Warhol and his superstars.
The Velvet Underground marks a creative change in the documentary genre, both celebrating the band and highlighting the dark corners of fame and rock’n’roll.
The Velvet Underground is released on Apple TV+ on 15th October 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Velvet Underground here: