Not all concert films are the same! Sure, there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes clips, archive footage and startling revelations, but the very first documentary released by director Todd Haynes highlights montages while exploring the relationships between band members of The Velvet Underground.
And the biggest factor that drew me to this movie? Andy Warhol!
Bizarre at times, often focusing on split-screen images that are shown in black and white, The Velvet Underground offers a visual potpourri for aficionados of the medium. It’s stark, avant-garde filmmaking at its finest, which also perfectly sums up the group.
Andy Warhol’s fingerprints are everywhere in this two-hour movie as he combines art, music and film in a unique way. His multimedia visionary thinking combined simultaneously showing a film (of the band, naturally) and flashing multi-colored lights about while people danced, and the group performed at his touring art shows. That’s a whole lot going on for people in the late ’60s (while not even addressing any possible illegal drug use). It was a hypnotic experience for attendees, regardless of the music that was played, perfectly defining the “pop art” term, which he pretty much coined. That’s kind of the effects of this film.
Throughout his efforts, Warhol got the band a record contract, managing, producing and promoting the band while getting people interested with the addition of the remote, unreachable singer, Nico (who I previously didn’t know much about).
“I honestly don’t think these things could have occurred without Andy…”
Outside of Warhol’s influence, the original band members were terribly insecure. Minor squabbles led to rifts. Lou Reed “was like a 3-year-old in many ways…”
Fans compared the band to the Grateful Dead, as TVU crafted a unique “group sound” featuring different musical elements. But once Lou had enough and fired Andy, the stressful tensions increased significantly. A string of underperforming albums and interpersonal strife led to their eventual breakup, but years later, the band is known for influencing many punk and New Wave performers.
This is definitely an avant-garde band featured in an avant-garde movie. An experimental filmmaker featuring experimental musicians can be hard to watch at times, but the exclusive interviews and archive footage are great to see (because I wasn’t around at the time). Once the end credits roll, all of it is even harder to decipher, as four of the original members have since passed away. Creating a fair-and-balanced film about real people can get really tricky once they’re dead. From an outsider’s perspective, it seemed like Haynes did his best to be fair to all.
I tend to gravitate toward concert-band documentaries that originated before I was born. This one didn’t let me down in the eye-opening category. Warhol and The Velvet Underground helped create a culture that is still felt today within the musical world. As a documentary, Haynes et al. were proficient in using all of the resources that were available in cobbling this film together.
As a Child of the ’80s, I enjoyed watching The Velvet Underground! Check it out, now airing on Apple TV+.