By JAKE COYLE, AP screenwriter
The thing most often said about the Velvet Underground is Brian Eno’s joke that the band didn’t sell a lot of records, but everyone who bought one made a band.
You won’t hear that line in Todd Haynes’ documentary “The Velvet Underground”, nor will you see a montage of famous faces talking about their vast influence. You won’t even really hear a fairly full track of Velvet Underground until almost an hour after the two-hour movie starts.
Haynes, the reliable and unconventional filmmaker of âCarol,â âI’m Not There,â and âFar From Heaven,â rejects a traditional treatment of the Velvets – rightly so, given its pioneering, uncompromising subject matter. âThe Velvet Underground,â which debuts in theaters and on Apple TV + Friday, is, like the Velvets, daringly artistic, limitless, and empowering. We feel that even Lou Reed would be delighted with the way the film denies the obvious.
âI didn’t have to make a movie to tell you how awesome the band is,â Haynes said in an interview earlier this year before the film’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. âThere were a lot of things I was going to say, ‘OK, we know that.’ Let’s see how it happened, this music, where these people were coming from and how this miracle of this group of people came together.
“The Velvet Underground” features little-seen footage and features a host of rare interviews, including founding member John Cale (who describes the group as striving for “how to be stylish and how to be brutal”), first disciple Jonathan Richman of Modern Lovers, and Jonas Mekas, the late pioneering filmmaker who filmed Velvet Underground’s first live performance in 1964 and to whom the film is dedicated.
âThe Velvet Undergroundâ is most singular in the way it resurrects the downtown New York City art scene of the 1960s that spawned and fermented the group. Haynes patiently traces the fertile downtown landscape of Warhol’s Factory, the explosion of queer New York City, and how Lou Reed and the Velvets were turned on by acts like the experimental drone music of La Monte Young or the subversive poetry of Delmore Schwartz. . Art, avant-garde cinema and music clashed. More than anything, the documentary is a revealing portrait of artistic cross-pollination.
âYou really felt this coexistence and the creative inspiration that was being exchanged from one medium to another,â says Haynes, who notes that such localized homes now seem victims of a digital world. âI want to today. I do not know where it is.
“The Velvet Underground” is Haynes’ first documentary. Previously, he knowingly made artificial fictions of great musicians. His “Velvet Goldmine” was a glam-rock fantasy by David Bowie. In “I’m Not Here,” rather than attempt the impossible task of finding a single actor who could play Bob Dylan, he chose seven.
“When I was researching the Bowie from ‘Velvet Goldmine’ or all the Dylans from ‘I’m Not Here’ you come across the real thing,” says Haynes. âI always felt like if I had to recreate this in a form of fiction, I better do something different with it. So you don’t compare it to the real thing, apples for apples. You’re in a different language, you put it in a different context, and the frame is visible. “
Haynes never met Reed, who died in 2013. But he saw him a few times at events like the Whitney Biennial (âI was too scared,â he says). Reed gave Haynes permission to use “Satellite of Love” in “Velvet Goldmine”. Laurie Anderson, Reed’s widow and filmmaker, endorsed Haynes for the making of the film, and other fields, like Andy Warhol’s, have provided support.
Images of Warhol, the only one who actually documented the Velvets, are present throughout the film. In split screen, the group members’ screen tests for the Factory (usually seen as still photographs) play out at length, with Reed or Cale staring at you provocatively.
âThe only film about them is that of one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. It’s so rare and weird, âsays Haynes. âThere is no traditional coverage of the band playing live. There are only Warhol films. We just have art in art in art to tell a story about great art. “
Follow AP Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP