The Velvet Underground – Film Review
by Killian Laher
Director – Todd Haynes
Writer – Todd Haynes
Stars – Mary Woronov, Lou Reed(archive footage), Jackson Browne
The eagerly awaited documentary about seminal band The Velvet Underground, directed by Todd Haynes has just been released in cinemas. You might wonder what is left to be said about a band whose existence lasted 4 or 5 years and 4 studio albums? The Brian Eno quote about how “everyone who bought the Velvet Underground and Nico album formed a band” was mentioned, as it always is when talking about these guys.
But this documentary is far from a rehash of old tales. John Cale presented new insights into his own, and the band’s musical evolution. There was less emphasis on the Andy Warhol connection, which though important, tends to be overstated. Moe Tucker was an amusing contributor and it was good to hear from the lesser heard (late) Sterling Morrison and Doug Yule. But even after his death, Lou Reed occupies the lead role here, with plenty of interview clips.
Their cultural impact, if anything, was downplayed. Not much footage exists of the band but this was compensated for by great shots of gritty, 1960s New York, in sharp contrast to flower power scenes from the West Coast of America. In fact, the film is a visual feast, Haynes employing the Warhol split-screen technique at key moments while at others there was so much happening on screen it was hard to know where to look.
Musician Jonathan Richman takes the perspective of the superfan with some amusing anecdotes, which stops the film from becoming too academic. Mercifully the 1993 reunion was only touched upon briefly. The movie ended with the partial reunion (Cale and Reed) at a Nico concert in 1972. The best starting point with the band is the music, but after that, this is the next best thing.