The art-rock-noise band “The Velvet Underground” destroyed and remade listeners’ obtained data about what rock-‘n’-roll could very effectively be. It’s elating and correct that Todd Haynes’ new film about them would do the identical for music documentaries.
Bear in mind, though, that viewers who come into Hayne’s two-hour movie “The Velvet Underground” making an attempt for a primer on the band, Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico, Andy Warhol, Mary Woronov, The Manufacturing unit, and totally different well-known names and locations may uncover themselves disoriented. Whatever the presence of quite a few standard documentary parts and a largely linear story that pulls you through roughly twenty years of cultural historic previous, Haynes and his collaborators make the experience actually really feel new and surprising, assembling the component parts with an eye fixed fastened within the route of constructing not solely a movie, nevertheless experience, one factor that you just simply actually really feel as you could actually really feel the drums all through a reside music effectivity: in your gut.
Interview subjects who had been present on the time—along with Velvet co-founder Cale, a Welsh classical musician; actress and painter Woronov; my colleague Amy Taubin, a veteran film critic; and the late Anthology Film Archives founder Jonas Mekas, who died not long after his interviews—present commentary and notion, alternating between taking a detached “prolonged view” of points and plunging us correctly into the middle of all of it. (Taubin is very sharp when critiquing the sexism of the Manufacturing unit, the place ladies, along with lead singer Nico, had been prized for his or her inserting attractiveness over all else.)
Like one different good 2021 music documentary, Questlove’s “Summertime of Soul,” this movie appears to deliberately undertake the development of a mid-twentieth century vinyl album—the type with songs organized in tracks that are presupposed to be expert in a linear methodology, first Side A after which Side B, straight by way of, without stopping. Every couple of minutes, the enhancing shifts emphasis so that you just simply merely switching musical tracks nevertheless psychological tracks: as in railroads, as in “one-track ideas,” or “apply of thought.”
Beneath Haynes’ supervision, cutters Affonso Gonçalves and Adam Kurnitz let the material transfer and alter the route and twist recursively once more on itself, digress a bit, then return to the first stage. The effect is far much less like sitting in a classroom and having particulars laid out for you than listening to a semi-improvised Velvet Underground jam whereas perusing espresso desk books or pictorial websites in regards to the band and pondering connections between the music that the band was making and the events that had been unfolding on the planet spherical them. It’s a recommendations loop of knowledge that creates a cinematic equal of that hypnotic drone that flows beneath so numerous the Velvet Underground’s songs, and that Cale insightfully tells us was modeled on the “60-cycle hum” of dwelling tools and machines from that interval in historic previous, the understructure of latest life.
There’s one different issue happening proper right here, involving overlapping dialogue and music cues and split-screen footage, and it’s merely as fascinating: Haynes seems to be searching for a streaming-era equal to the multimedia sound-and-light displays that Warhol and his mates and “discoveries” used to stage spherical New York inside the ’60s—the musical/dance/poetry/experimental cinema “happenings” that can comprise the Velvets performing a monitor, alternate reels of flicks being projected on partitions, chosen viewers members working spotlights, and so forth, all on the identical time. Haynes and cinematographer Ed Lachman delicate the present-day interviews inside the methodology of Warhol’s “close-up” motion pictures, with even-toned lighting and a solid-colored background, in an old-style “academy ratio” image that’s nearer to an sq. than a rectangle. The effect evokes exact footage taken by Warhol and totally different Manufacturing unit-adjacent filmmakers on the time, supplies which can be included proper right here as successfully.
All of the provides are dealt with as parts to be organized in split-screen compositions that evoke Warhol’s “Chelsea Women,” a quasi-documentary “experience” that’s ideally launched in a film present the place two 16mm film projectors can run concurrently, casting two unrelated footage side-by-side and letting the soundtracks overlap and alter into dissonant, a soup of dialogue and sound. (“I haven’t received to take heed to this shit,” a Los Angeles studio engineer knowledgeable the band as soon as that they had been recording 1968’s White Gentle/White Heat. “I’ll put it on the doc, and I’m leaving. Every time you’re completed, come and get me.”) All through the opening, a part of the film, half of the split-screen image is an unnerving Warhol closeup of the youthful Lou Reed staring correct at you for minutes on the end. Usually, the other split-screen image could be crammed up with footage irrespective of what a talented witness is telling you about in voice-over. On totally different events, you’re more likely to be seeing out-of-focus footage of Manhattan taken from a transferring automotive, or the psychedelic sunbursts of color that occur when a reel of the film runs out whereas passing by way of a digital digicam’s gate. It’s Godardian, as in Jean-Luc, nonetheless, it’s moreover Warholian, and Haynesian, and in case you occur to’re in one of the simplest ways of considering, it’s hypnotizing, brain-expanding, and easily plain fulfilling.
Together with new and outdated supplies that are immediately associated with the band (along with early “music video” footage, and footage of them gallivanting in New York, Los Angeles, and totally different locales), you moreover see footage from filmmakers who each operated contemporaneously with the Manufacturing unit or impressed them, from Warhol’s notorious static-shot “Empire” to fragments of (if my eye wouldn’t deceive me!) Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising” and Maya Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon.” Sound and footage don’t merely work collectively nevertheless at cross-purposes, making a vibe additional so than a simple narrative. Even when Haynes (who dealt with a couple of of the identical themes fictionally in his music drama “Velvet Goldmine”) is being sneakily typical, verging on a public television-style, “let’s all admire this unbelievable issue that occurred” mode, you always actually really feel as in case you occur to be immersed in a kaleidoscope of impressions, associations, and anecdotes. They swirl all through the show display similar to the multicolored lights that used to clean over the band all through reside performances on the Manufacturing unit, often to the annoyance of Reed and Cale, who wished their music to be central to the experience, though they knew intellectually that it was, nevertheless, one half of an even bigger picture.
It’s a dazzling movie—not merely one among Haynes’ biggest, nevertheless presumably the one which his full occupation, with all of its self-aware formal and historic experiments, has been setting up in the direction of. I’m deeply jealous of anyone who acquired to see it projected on an enormous show display, with a booming sound, on account of that’s the means it must be seen. It’s a spectacle along with an account of a time and place. It makes you focus on what a documentary is, and what a film can do, even as a result of it does all the points that you just actually need and want.