It’s not that the Velvet Underground were an influential band, even though they were.
And it’s not that the New York band was, according to some, and given their relative lack of popularity with the general population, a deeply overrated band. It could also be true.
Is that for some people the Velvet Underground is one of the rarest categories: the band that makes music that you’ve waited all your life to hear.
Todd Haynes falls into this category of fan. It’s not for nothing that the essay in his press notes for his new documentary The velvet metro (screening this weekend as part of AFS Cinema’s Doc Days series) begins with “I turned to the Velvet Underground …” etc.
To watch Haynes ‘previous musical films is to contemplate the inevitability of that film, given Haynes’ fascination with David Bowie. Golden velvet, his meditation on glam rock, is based on a Bowie analogue whose muse is mainly Iggy Pop with a few quotes from Lou Reed. I am not here is essentially Six Ways to Look at Bob Dylan, a key Bowie influence. And who was Bowie’s other key influence (who wasn’t Anthony Newley)? Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.
But Haynes almost bristles at the suggestion that he would make a Golden velvet on the Velours. “I never for a second considered making a dramatic fiction film on the Velvet Underground,” Haynes retorted, as if to say, “Come on, doofus, that band is holy text over there.”
Haynes said her longtime producer Christine Vachon of Killer Films was contacted by Universal Music Group around the time Lou Reed’s widow, musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson, was moving Reed’s archives to the New York Public Library. It seemed like the right time for a Velvets doc.
Haynes absolutely wanted to do it, but he knew with a few small exceptions, most of the known images of Velvets in the middle of a skronk (or even sitting around fooling around) were the work of one man. âIt’s almost everything in Andy Warhol’s cinema,â Haynes said. “We found a few little things later, but almost everything is in the Warhol films – which is enough.”
Thanks to his sponsorship of the group, Warhol and his team filmed everything from live sets to his legendary âscreen testsâ – films of the subject just sitting there, filmed from the neck. “Just watching an entire screen test, which I had never done before, blew me away.”
âGet right into the music and what that world was like. “– Todd Haynes
Haynes said it occurred to him that the Velvets had this “unique relationship with all these other experimental filmmakers working at the same time.” â¦ Jack Smith, Barbara Rubin, Marie Menken, all part of this network of collaborative artists who all live and breathe the same air in New York at the time. It’s a relationship unlike any other band I’ve known. “
Using this special link between sound and vision, Haynes chose to make his documentary something immersive, almost like a collage. Sure, there are talking heads (band members John Cale and Moe Tucker, songwriter LaMonte Young, screenwriter and manager Danny Fields, Lou Merrill’s sister Reed Weiner), but there is a lot more footage from it. archive, cool graphics and cutting edge movie clips all mixed into something as “you are there” as it gets. “Let us drop the importance they have for the history of rock & roll”. Step right into the music and see what this world was like. “
One of the biggest surprises for Haynes was the relationship between the group and a young Bostonian named Jonathan Richman. The founder of Modern Lovers was easily one of the group’s biggest fans (and easily the most entertaining talking head in the film). âI never knew how incredibly nice the band was to him,â Haynes said. “It’s something you really wouldn’t imagine the Velvet Underground to be.” Um no.
Haynes was also impressed with how their music stayed fresh after being taken apart. “When it’s music that you know very well, it’s all synthesized, it’s one thing, as it should be. When you listen intently and get into the roots of Cale and Lou, you really can. hear the different components. But you want to do this so that it deepens the emotional connection with the music and doesn’t destroy it. “
The velvet metro plays as part of the Doc Days (14-17 oct.) at the AFS cinema (6406 N. I-35 # 3100). Live Virtual Q&A with Todd Haynes and Richard Linklater, October 14, rebroadcast October 15. Tickets and information on austinfilm.org.
A version of this article appeared in print on October 15, 2021 with the title: Chic Mystique