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The Velvet Underground

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The Velvet Underground

Directed by Todd Haynes
Published: 2021
Age Range: Adult
Genre: Documentary
Awards: Boston Society of Film Critics Awards: Best Editing; Cinema Eye Honors: Outstanding Sound Design (Leslie Shatz and Jahn Sood); San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Documentary Feature

The Velvet Underground. Just the name conjures images of gritty New York City nights, avant-garde soundscapes, and lyrics that dared to push boundaries. If you’re a fan like me, you know their impact on rock and roll is undeniable. But even if you haven’t fully delved into their world, Todd Haynes’s 2021 documentary, simply titled The Velvet Underground, is a must-watch.

Haynes touches on the backgrounds of the members, work by members that preceded the formation of the band, the artistic scenes that inspired and promoted the band (including their connection to Andy Warhol), and each of their four albums with frontman Lou Reed. The film contains interviews with surviving band members as well as people close to and influenced by the band.

Haynes does a great job capturing what made the band so groundbreaking. We see the influence of John Cale’s avant-garde background, particularly his exploration of sounds, such as drones, that had not yet been fully embraced in rock music. We hear Reed’s raw lyrics, deemed too provocative for his previous record label job, that laid bare the gritty underbelly of the city and its inhabitants.

But the film doesn’t paint Reed as a saint. We see his darker side in his negative personality as well as his ultimatum that drove Cale out of the band and allowed Reed to take more creative control. While Reed’s artistic vision and songwriting prowess are undeniable, Haynes doesn’t shy away from showcasing his flaws, making for a more nuanced and honest portrayal.

The mix of archival footage and Velvet Underground recordings are truly captivating, transporting you back to that era with vibrant lights, pulsating sounds, and photos and videos of the band.

If you’re a die-hard fan, the library’s two-disc set offers even more: director’s commentary, full avant-garde films featured in the documentary, interview outtakes, and more.

So, whether you’re a longtime Velvet Underground enthusiast or simply curious about a band that redefined rock and roll, head to the library and lose yourself in The Velvet Underground. It’s a journey that will leave you buzzing with the band’s raw brilliance and the enduring impact they left on music history.