This doc loves the music group and its members and collaborators.
Todd Haynes presents his first documentary about The Velvet Underground nearly in a similar vibe as “I’m Not There.” It loves musicians, a black-and-white scope, and the songs that became classics. And there are colorful shots in this doc, too. But it isn’t about looks; it’s about feelings and ambitions for the band. The title of the doc, obviously “The Velvet Underground” has more depth and trips than “The Sparks Brothers” did, and I liked that one. This one is more challenging and thought-provoking, and Haynes is able to grasp the scope of the band’s members, their music, and their worlds.
The Velvet Underground members include singer Lou Reed (1942-2013), the multi-instrumentalist John Cale, the drummer Sterling Morrison (1942-1995), the drummer Angus Maclise (1938-1979), singer Doug Yule, and Angus’ replacement Maureen Tucker. But mostly, we get the scoop from Lou and John, and how they both deal with their realities and work in the band, and with archival recordings and some new ones (because John is still alive), they really express themselves quite well.
In his humble beginnings, Lou learned guitar from playing along with records, felt depressed, and played in gay nightclubs, sororities, and bars. This singer felt so insecure that he got angry at people for rejecting him. He looked up to Delmore Schwartz, who found Lou’s poems to be so remarkable, explicit, and fearless, that he got them published. His music work is about the difficulties of his life or any life he has seen or heard, which is why he couldn’t get a record deal at the time.
John didn’t have the family he wanted, since his father was always at work and his mother left. On his own, he learned to play the viola. He left Wales for New York City to broaden his horizons.
Eventually John and Lou both met, and John was interested in Lou’s taste in songs. That’s when they both decide to try to beat Bob Dylan at his own game with how they present their music in the psychedelic sense. And The Velvet Underground was born.
We also get some insights about Andy Warhol being their manager, them meeting future composers Tony Conrad and La Monte Young, and collaborating with the female singer Nico, who sang four songs in the band.
“The Velvet Underground” is one of the best music docs ever produced on film, because of how Todd Haynes is committed to the story about the band, whose hit songs include “Heroin,” “Sweet Jane,” and “Pale Blue Eyes,” among others. It also shows us their struggles within their lives and the people they couldn’t always please. In fact, their work has been criticized by critics and listeners. Even Cher said: “It will replace nothing-except suicide.” But there are those who admire their creativity and their sounds, which include fuzz tone and overtones.
The songs are able to keep listeners in their seats, because of the vibes and spirits the band created, the archival recordings are clear and crisp, and the editing with split screens is really exceptional. I love how some of the band members are given black and white videos of themselves not talking on the right, while various clips and images appear on the right (color or no color). Kudos to Alfonso Goncalves and Adam Kurnitz for that.
This is an old band, so a new generation of music fans need to learn about The Velvet Underground, hear their music, and see this riveting and pulsating doc.
In Select Theaters and Streaming on AppleTV+