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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Velvet Underground Documentary

TL; DR: a stunning work of art.

If all you read is headlines or “TL; DR” portions of posts you can probably skip Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground documentary. Not only do you need to watch the whole thing, it requires repeat viewings. 

The film is almost entirely done in split screen with quick cuts of photos & film in a “even if you don’t blink you’ll miss it” style. To me this was distracting & annoying until I realized the point: it was presented in a Warhol/The Factory/multimedia/sensory overload kind of way because the subject matter had been presented that way back in the day. Haynes will likely take critical & particularly audience heat for that decision but to me it made the film all the more engrossing. The frenzied bits are followed by quieter, slower-paced segments, allowing for the (at least partial) processing of the visual bombardment. 

Personally I’m Haynes ambivalent: loved Velvet Goldmine, truly hated his  Bob Dylan movie.

There were no full studio Velvets songs for a long, long time from the start of the film, which was also kind of annoying, but (a) that mirrored the reality that there were no VU studio recordings for the first several years of the band, & (b) when that first full studio recording came on it really hit, especially through over-the-ear noise-canceling surround sound headphones. During speaking portions the headphones put the viewer in the room with the interviewee, and during the live music performances, which mainly featured middling to poor person-in-the-crowd-with-a-mic-sounding audio, made it feel like the viewer was there but at the side of the stage or backstage.

A stunning work of art that also serves as a documentary recommended if you like the Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol, 60s downtown art/culture/non-hippie attitudes.

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