‘Velvet Underground’ stands the test of time | Arts and Features


Before Lou Reed proclaimed “My God, this is rock ‘n’ roll,” the frontman of the Velvet Underground was a Jewish boy who grew up in Freeport, Long Island, with Russian refugee grandparents. He was born Lewis Allan Reed – although his grandparents changed their last name from “Rabinowitz” to “Reed”.

The boy in love with the radio show “Murray the K” became an amateur musician who performed – and was arrested – in gay bars and went on to lead the iconic rock ‘n’ roll group the Velvet Underground with using pop. artist Andy Warhol and New York’s top anti-establishment creatives.

“The Velvet Underground,” produced and directed by Jewish filmmaker Todd Haynes, unveils the story of Reed and his eccentric cohort of avant-garde artists, cementing the titular group as a group that will live on long after its disbandment and the death of its members. . The documentary will be available on AppleTV + on October 15.

Haynes ‘film – his first documentary, but not his first film inspired by Reed – is a mosaic of music videos and photographs: Reed as a baby, New York in the’ 60s, a precious collection of interviews 2018 with the Velvet Underground group members and their peers.

The volume of Haynes’ archive is impressive, but the preservation of clips and photos somehow manages to be greater than the sum of their parts.

Haynes doesn’t shy away from Reed’s notoriety as an abrasive and irritant, but instead tries to provide an explanation for it.

Reed was socially anxious and underwent electroconvulsive therapy at the behest of his parents, who suspected him of having “homosexual urges.” He started using drugs in high school.

He dropped out of New York University after a semester and a half, before transferring to Syracuse University, where friends say he developed a sometimes bitter personality.

The first companions of the group remember Reed’s percussion if they missed a note or a beat; Reed demanded perfection.

Still, time seemed to tame Reed a bit, as did the synergy between bandmates Moe Tucker, Sterling Morrison, and John Cale. Their improvisations pushed the boundaries of what rock ‘n’ roll – and music – could involve.

The Velvet Underground was unique, but Reed wanted to be cemented as a rock star, a feat that wouldn’t have been possible without Warhol, the group’s producer, who at the start of the group sat silently in the studio, in session. after the session.

Warhol recruited German actress and model Nico, whose “ghostly” beauty and elegance foiled the group’s messy sound and aesthetic.

Without Warhol’s iconic pop-art banana on the cover of their debut album, the Velvet Underground probably wouldn’t have known the fame they did.

Conversely, when Warhol and Reed’s relationship deteriorated and Nico left to pursue an independent musical career, the sound and synergy of the Velvet Underground faltered, although the group continued to create music together for several. years.

Although the Velvet Underground was revived in the 1990s, the 1960s vibe that helped build the band’s fame was long gone.

In its heyday, playing as part of Warhol’s Plastic Exploding Inevitable, the Velvet Underground would have images of peas and scenes of Warhol’s reels projected behind them during performances, causing sensory overload for audiences.

Haynes uses a technique similar to his documentary: Narrating Cale, Tucker and musician and Velvet Underground protégé Jonathan Richman, among other artists of the time, Haynes fills the screen with swirling geometric shapes and musical performances. and accelerated or slowed down sequences. .

To some, the indulgent use of archival footage may seem overkill, distracting attention from the documentary’s narrative. For Haynes, it’s emblematic of the era of the 60s.

“Painters, musicians, filmmakers – they weren’t so much interested in telling narrative stories,” Jonas Mekas, a Lithuanian-American avant-garde filmmaker, said in the film. “The poetic aspect of cinema has brought cinema to the level of other parts.”

Throughout the documentary, Haynes clearly expresses his fascination with the passing of time.

The story of Reed and the Velvet Underground diverges at one point to explain Warhol’s evocative 1963 film “Kiss”.

The 50-minute silent film is divided into three-and-a-half-minute segments, each of a pair of people of different genders and races hugging each other. The film is projected at 16 frames per second, slower than the speed of the subjects while they were being filmed.

“The people in these pictures are breathing and their hearts are beating in a different time frame than yours when you watch it,” said film critic Amy Taubin.

And as if he were a ghost, Reed’s voice appears and disappears throughout the documentary, coloring the black-and-white footage of his commentary, bringing the archive clips – and the musician behind them to life.

For a minute, audiences can forget that Reed’s presence in the documentary was only posthumously, that he passed away on October 27, 2013, a Sunday morning. Jn

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