Brian Eno’s comment that although the Velvet Underground didn’t sell many records but everyone who bought one did start a band is the most popular thing about them.
That line is not in Todd Haynes’ documentary, “The Velvet Underground,” and neither will you see any montage of celebrities talking about their immense influence. The film’s two-hour run time will only allow you to hear the full Velvet Underground song.
Haynes, the consistently unconventional filmmaker of “Carol”, “I’m Not There”, and “Far From Heaven”, rejects a traditional treatment for the Velvets. This is a fitting approach given the pioneering, uncompromising subject. The Cannes Film Festival premiered his movie this week. It is boldly artistic, boundless, and stimulating, just like the Velvets. It is clear that Lou Reed would be proud of “The Velvet Underground”, which refuses to acknowledge the obvious.
Haynes stated in an interview that “I didn’t need to make any movie to show you how great this band is.” Haynes said that there were many things I wanted to say, including “OK, we know this.” Let’s talk about how it happened. This music, the origins of these people, and how this amazing group of people came to be together.
Apple’s “The Velvet Underground”, which will be released in theaters and online Oct. 15, features rare interviews with John Cale, a founding member of the band, Jonathan Richman, a Modern Lovers disciple and Jonas Mekas (the late pioneering filmmaker who filmed The Velvet Underground’s first live performance in 1964, to whom the film is dedicated).
The most unique thing about “The Velvet Underground”‘s revival of the 1960s New York art scene is how it revives the group. Haynes meticulously describes the fertile downtown environment of Warhol’s Factory, the explosion in queer New York, and how Lou Reed was turned on by acts such as the Ramones and La Monte Young’s experimental drone music. Avant-garde music and art collide. More than anything, the documentary is a revelatory portrait about artistic cross-pollination.
Haynes says that “you really felt that coexistence” and that creative inspiration was being exchanged from medium to medium. He notes that such hotbeds are now extinct due to the digital age. I want that today. “I don’t know where it is.”
Haynes’ first documentary is “The Velvet Underground”. He’s previously turned to intentionally artificial fictions about great musicians. His “Velvet Goldmine,” a glam rock fantasia by David Bowie, was his “Velvet Goldmine”. He cast seven actors in “I’m Not There” instead of trying to find an actor for Bob Dylan.
Haynes says, “When I was researching on the Bowie of ‘Velvet Goldmine’ and all the Dylans from ‘I’m Not Here’, I came across the real thing.” “I felt that if I was going to create this in fiction, I should do something with it. You’re not comparing the fake with the real thing, apples to apple. It’s in a different language. You put it in a different context. The frame is visible.
Reed, who passed away in 2013, was not met by Haynes. He did meet Reed at the Whitney Biennial, but he only saw him once. “I was too afraid,” he said. Reed also gave permission for Reed to use “Satellite of Love,” in “Velvet Goldmine”. Laurie Anderson, Reed’s widow, was a filmmaker and supported Haynes’ direction of the film. Other estates like Andy Warhol were supportive.
The film includes footage by Warhol, who was the only person to have ever documented the Velvets. Split screen shows the screen tests of the Factory band members, which are usually seen as still photos. Reed and Cale stare provocatively at you.
“The only film that shows them is made by one of 20th century’s greatest artists. This is so strange and rare. It is not common to see the band live. Haynes says that there are only Warhol films. “We have art within art, within art to tell a story of great art,” Haynes says.