Review: Spellbinding, experiential ‘Velvet Underground’ digs into seminal band and its time

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So many music documentaries right now are machine-stamped plaques rewarding recognition and ego that when encountering a real movie, a murals about artists and artmaking, you’re jolted awake by what’s breathed right into a slice of cultural historical past. Such is Todd Haynes’ sensory gem “The Velvet Underground,” concerning the infamous and influential Lou Reed/John Cale-led ‘60s rock outfit whose revelatory sounds, lyrics and Andy Warhol-mentored picture helped outline a radical period’s ecstatic transgressions.

With Sterling Morrison on guitar and Moe Tucker on drums, the Velvets have been a sonic manifesto as a lot as they have been a band. The seminal, churning tracks from their 1967 debut album with Warhol’s signed banana on the duvet — “Heroin,” “I’m Ready for the Man,” “Venus in Furs,” “All Tomorrow’s Events,” with German chanteuse Nico’s androgynous moan alternating lead vocals with Reed — each entranced and shocked with a tough hum and spiky depictions of the cool, stark and harmful. They have been additionally beneficiaries of an elevated, multi-disciplinary New York artwork scene with a clubby vibe. In these fascinating contrasts they discovered, says Cale, “find out how to be elegant and find out how to be brutal.”

Haynes, one in all cinema’s true visionaries concerning outsider hearts (“Poison,” “I’m Not There,” “Far From Heaven”), is a perfect chronicler to sort out the inventive legacy of the Velvets, famously tagged (by Brian Eno) because the group that didn’t promote many albums however impressed every file purchaser to start out their very own band. However that affect (manifest right here within the giddy reminiscences of superfan interviewee Jonathan Richman) got here from the unique confluence of style and expertise represented by Cale partnering with Reed — the previous’s Welsh darkness and the latter’s polysexual city angst, the avant-garde with the street-real, classical fused with bar rock, and all filtered by the transportive prospects of medicine and droning. Add Warhol, stir.

The film is its personal collage, too, and breathtakingly so. It’s not some wasn’t-that-a-time assortment of anecdotes, however a percolating dream of invention made tantalizingly current by Haynes’ and editors Affonso Goncalves and Adam Kurnitz’s evocative mix of archival footage, inventive references, interviews (on-camera with surviving members Cale and Tucker, through voice from Reed and Morrison), and all that music.

Foregrounding the film visually is Haynes’ masterful use of a stressed, size-shifting cut up display screen as a language of juxtaposition, connection and time journey, from which the musical cues can both whisk us right into a scene-setting temper or, as once we hear early variations of notable compositions, underscore the evolution of a music. The cascade of images — from era-specific adverts and the Warhol oeuvre to the work of counterculture gods Jonas Mekas, Kenneth Anger, Barbara Rubin and others — is hypnotically deployed, placing us within the mind-set of creatives who noticed prospects in all places.

Nobody talks for too lengthy, their reminiscences and insights simply sufficient to fill within the mosaic with a key psychological coloring or flash of character. (Particular point out to the reclusive Tucker for vocalizing the band’s hatred of the West Coast scene’s “peace and love crap” as nonetheless irritated.) But additionally, gripes don’t really feel gossiped, and discord isn’t sensationalized, even because the band turned its disdain inward, morphed, then disintegrated. Haynes loves his topic(s) an excessive amount of to experience a juicy breakup, however extra essentially, it appears, he respects the abiding value of collaboration, even when it’s a conflict, and the lightning is short-lived.

The non secular reality of Haynes’ spellbinding “The Velvet Underground” is that in the end it’s concerning the factor that may’t be described, that defies parsing when gifted outcasts make nice artwork — it’s to be skilled. But that doesn’t imply rooting by the tapes, the movies, the images, the lives, the reminiscences, making an attempt to seize what it was all about, isn’t its personal significant, mesmerizing exploration, and its personal factor. It’s why I’m liable to assume that regardless of how many individuals absorb Haynes’ vivid paean, Eno’s exponential evaluation of the Velvets might apply right here, too: After seeing this, who wouldn’t wish to observe their muse?

‘The Velvet Underground’

Rated: R, for language, sexual content material, nudity and a few drug materials

Working time: 2 hours, 1 minute

Taking part in: Begins Oct. 15, Landmark Nuart, West Los Angeles; Laemmle Theatres, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Glendale, Claremont, Newhall; Frida Cinema, Santa Ana, CA; additionally out there on Apple TV+

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