By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
My first introduction to the music of The Velvet Underground was in 1991 when a couple of their songs played in the background of Oliver Stone’s musical biopic The Doors. Back then, I was such a huge fan of the movie that I was obsessed with the soundtrack album which contain the group’s song, “Heroin.” Prior to this movie, I had never ever heard of the group, but was vaguely familiar with the lead singer Lou Reed. Flash forward to this year, and up until recently I actually still was not that familiar with the group other than knowing and loving a good amount of their music. I don’t know exactly why, but information and knowledge about the bands members and history never did previously fascinate me, but all I knew was that I really dug their unique sound.
Anyway, when I heard that director Todd Haynes had made a documentary about The Velvet Underground, this was the icing/cherry that attracted me to this project. As a fan of most of Haynes’ previous films, I was certainly interested in how he would present the band’s story. The result is a remarkable and outstanding documentary that only provides real insight into the group and its members, but presents their story in ways absolutely fitting to their style, era, and artistic background.
For anyone unfamiliar with the band, The Velvet Underground emerged from the avant garde art scene in New York during the mid-1960s. Inspired by rock and roll, beat poet, and the art scene that surrounded them, Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Angus MacLisle took the music scene by storm and developed a devoted following. With dark and gritty lyrics and imagery, as well as unorthodox musical arrangements, The Velvet Underground would eventually become an iconic and influental group. Their fate as such was definitely sealed when German singer Nico guest performed on their debut album, and had the support and respect of artist Andy Warhol.
While this film does have a lot of elements common in music documentaries, Haynes, and editors Alfonso Gonzales and Adam Kurnitz do exceptional work in presenting the archival clips and interviews in ways that capture the avant garde spirit of the scene from which the band emerge. Not only does the movie offer information about the creative forces behind the group, it offers a mesmerizing and immersive experience that feels like a genuine timecapsule. There is definitely a lot of visual stimulation to take in and I would just love to rewatch the film over and over again to capture the images I previously missed.
This is a documentary that I higly recommend, and this recommendation is not only extended to fans of The Velvet Underground, but also to the uninitiated, as well as fans of the work of Todd Haynes. The Velvet Underground is currently playing in some theaters and is available for viewing via AppleTV +.