Todd Haynes’ documentary Velvet Underground for Apple TV + hits Cannes
Director Todd Haynes’ first foray into documentary cinema, The velvet metro, received rave reviews after its world premiere Wednesday at the Cannes Film Festival. And that bodes well for the music doc’s debut on Apple TV + and in theaters on October 15.
The Velvet Underground: The Rise of a Cultural Icon
The film tells the story of avant-garde rock band‘s rise in cultural influence. Established in New York City in the mid-1960s, The Velvet Underground only performed under that name until 1973, with some staff changes in the mix. The essential group was composed of the frontman and the guitarist Lou reed, classically trained multi-instrumentalist John Calé, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen “Moe” Tucker.
But the band’s influence never really ended.
Andy Warhol gave the band a boost
This is largely thanks to the involvement and influence of legendary pop artist Andy Warhol. He joined the group as a manager in 1966, making The Velvet Underground the house group of his New York art collective and studio. Factory and the traveling multimedia show Inevitable plastic explosion in 1966-’67. The band often played adventurous and sonically jarring music with Warhol films in the background.
Warhol also boosted the group’s association with the German-born singer. Nico. He suggested that she sing on their first album, The Velvet Underground & Nico.
The group never enjoyed much commercial success, or even critical success at the start. You could tell the band was way too weird for the general public, with their jarring, buzzing sounds and sexually suggestive lyrics. But The Velvet Underground remains one of the most influential and beloved bands in rock history.
As a music producer Brian Eno is famous for saying, “Velvet Underground’s debut album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.”
Haynes’ film captures the group and its context
The documentary features interviews with key players from the Velvet Underground and the surrounding area, combined with a wealth of never-before-seen performances and a collection of recordings, Warhol films and other experimental art.
“It’s a great documentary about people who are serious about music and also art, and what it means to live as an artist,” wrote Peter Bradshaw. The Guardian.
Critics seem impressed with the film’s inventive structure. They praised its intensive use of a split screen and its immersion of the audience in a well-captured world of art, music and cultural ferment from another time.
“By ingeniously using the split screen, experimental montage, and densely layered imagery and sound for two fabulously entertaining hours, Haynes puts his distinctive imprint on the material while creating a work that almost could have come from the same artistic explosion that ‘she celebrates,’ wrote David Rooney in Hollywood journalist.
Haynes has now made nine films, including Dark Waters in 2019 and Carole in 2015. Two of his previous works may have foreshadowed this one, as they also explored musical themes. These are years 1998 Golden velvet, about the life of a fictional glam rocker based on David Bowie, and the years 2007 I am not here, a musical drama inspired by the life and music of Bob Dylan.
Not without faults
Critics seem to agree The velvet metro is quite an accomplishment, but not without some flaws.
“Where it perhaps falls is in the ordinary, chatty sense of how the band members could have fallen out so badly, and how painful it surely must have been,” wrote The Guardianis Bradshaw. The reviewer also questioned the film’s cover-up about sexual matters, including Reed’s sexuality.
The triumph of the film seems to be to capture the spirit of the group, but every minute of the film does not show the same fire.
“At best, Haynes’ film is neither a dry account of who the Velvets were, nor a heady evocation of their work; it’s a movie about the fires these people started in each other and how they spread to anyone who was burning and gave them the same permission to push back expectations, ”David Erhlich wrote in IndieWire.
But, he added, “there are tired exhibition sketches towards the end” along the lines of “unhappy groups” all appearing to fall apart in the same way.