Saturday, October 23, 2021

Review: A Distinctive Tribute to a Specific Band

As a young man starting college, director Todd Haynes immediately fell for the Velvet Underground – the band, which musician Brian Eno famously said, sold not many records, but everyone who bought one and started a band. .

It sounds like the story of a great fantasy musical movie: In the midst of the flower-power hippie era, a rock band with contrasting ethos emerges from New York’s avant-garde art scene, dressed in black with an outsider, Singing about drugs and seedy sex. This group of unlikely personalities and burgeoning talents collaborates with Andy Warhol to create shows that combine music, visual arts and performance – a unique blend that brought little commercial success. But the band will be credited as one of the most influential in rock history.

“the Velvet Underground,” Haynes’ wonderfully silly, brilliantly constructed rock doc – or rockumentary? – That’s what the story tells. And it’s true.

Unless you, like Haynes, are a die-hard fan of the band that launched Lou Reed’s career and was managed by Warhol, you might find it surprising that some people hold it in the same breath as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. mention. But there is a relationship in which the Velvet Underground is held by many, who point to its influence on punk and other genres – even though it lasted for some six years before Mercurial Reed left in 1970, and never Did not achieve real mainstream success.

Whatever your level of familiarity, Haynes’ Doctor — a first for this accomplished director — is so stylistically compelling, no matter what you knew.

They don’t just aim to tell the story of the Velvet Underground through interviews and a surprisingly vast collection of archival material (all shot before the early ’70s), including eclectic snippets of avant-garde filmmaking. It looks like he’s trying to make a documentary version of the Velvet Underground show, in his distinctive, non-linear style.

Most importantly, Haynes uses split-screen technology for almost a full two hours, an effect that is much more than technical. It is as if one approach will never suffice; There’s always another, even if it’s just a picture of a worried Reed expressing doubts about what someone says. Or munching on a Hershey’s chocolate bar.

And we don’t mean just two screens. At Points, there are 12 screens telling the story, a combination of static and moving images. The soul seems to be associated with those multimedia shows in the mid-’60s, where Warhol would project the screen scenes of his dreams as the Velvets and an eclectic audience danced (even Rudolf Nureyev too.)

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Haynes’s dazzling visuals are based on interviews with two surviving band members—most widely John Cale, the Welshman and classically trained violinist who formed a powerful partnership with the Long Island-born Reed. The other is drummer Maureen “Mo” Tucker, who has a great line describing how the Velvets broke away from hippie culture: Peace and love? “We hated it. Get real,” she says dismissively.

One man who couldn’t be interviewed: Reed himself, who died in 2013 after a long solo career. Haynes has assembled seemingly every audio clip and piece of archival footage, and is able to capture the menacing energy of a young Reed—someone who didn’t feel like doing a show instead, holding his fist. broke into a glass pane.

Also, of course, went Warhol, who died in 1987 and popped up in quick clips, and Nico — the German singer whose blonde charm and stage presence helped the group secure their first record contract.

Haynes begins in the early ’60s when the group didn’t have a name or its sound yet, playing to so little praise, Reid says, “We had to change our name a lot because no one would hire us. “

But, we learn, Reed knew what he wanted: “I want to be rich and I want to be a rock star.”

The film tracks the band’s history from its inception to the departure of the 1967 first album, “The Velvet Underground and Nico”, their downtown shows, touring performances, West Coast stints, second album “White Light/White Heat” and . Niko. “She was a wanderer,” says Kale.

Maverick Reed takes out Warhol, then takes out Black. “I didn’t know how to please him,” Kale says. “You tried to be nice, he’ll hate you more.”

In the end, Reed leaves himself.

“We weren’t getting anywhere near what he wanted us to achieve,” Tucker explains. “It was, ‘Damn, when is this going to happen?'”

But he made an impact. Perhaps the best line of all comes from Danny Fields, music manager and publicist. “They were shining so bright that no place could have had that much light,” he says. “You need physics to describe that band at its height.”

“The Velvet Underground,” an Apple TV+ release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language, sexual content, nudity, and certain drug content.” Running time: 121 minutes. Three out of four stars.

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MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 years of age need to be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.

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