The Velvet Underground: Get a First Glimpse of Todd Haynes’ Upcoming Documentary on the Most Influential Avant-Garde Rockers

To the ques­tion of the most influ­en­tial band formed in the 1960s a list of easy answers unfolds, begin­ning with the Bea­t­les, the Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones. As three of the mak­ers of the best-sell­ing records of all time, those bands all lay fair claim to the title. But even with­in the com­mer­cial dynamo of post­war Amer­i­ca, it was also pos­si­ble to exert great influ­ence with­out top­ping the charts, or indeed with­out even reach­ing them. This is proven by the sto­ry of avant-garde rock­ers the Vel­vet Under­ground, whose mea­ger suc­cess in their day as com­pared with their for­mi­da­ble cul­tur­al lega­cy inspired Bri­an Eno to sum them up with a quip now so well-known as to have become a cliché.

But not even a mind like Eno’s can tru­ly sum up the Vel­vet Under­ground. Bet­ter to tell the band’s sto­ry — the sto­ry, in its way, of art and pop­u­lar cul­ture in mid-to-late 20th-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca — in a fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary, as Todd Haynes has done with The Vel­vet Under­ground, which pre­miered at this year’s Cannes Film Fes­ti­val and debuts on AppleTV+ on Octo­ber 15th.

“Haynes appears to have vac­u­umed up every last pho­to­graph and raw scrap of home-movie and archival footage of the band that exists and stitched it all into a cor­us­cat­ing doc­u­ment that feels like a time-machine kalei­do­scope,” writes Vari­ety crit­ic Owen Gleiber­man. He intro­duces the Vel­vets and their asso­ciates “by play­ing their words off the flick­er­ing black-and-white images of their Warhol screen tests.”

The Vel­vets were, in a sense, a prod­uct of Warhol’s Fac­to­ry. The pop-art icon man­aged the band him­self ear­ly on, con­nect­ing them with the singer who would become the sec­ond tit­u­lar fig­ure on their debut The Vel­vet Under­ground & Nico and design­ing that album’s oft-visu­al­ly-ref­er­enced banana-stick­er cov­er. Hav­ing died in 1987, Warhol could­n’t grant Haynes an inter­view; hav­ing fol­lowed Warhol the next year, nei­ther could Nico. Band leader Lou Reed, too, has now been gone for the bet­ter part of a decade, but he does have plen­ty to say in the 1986 South Bank Show doc­u­men­tary above. Haynes’ The Vel­vet Under­ground includes Reed in archival footage, but also fea­tures new rem­i­nis­cences from sur­viv­ing mem­bers like Mau­reen Tuck­er and John Cale. Like all human beings, the Vel­vets are mor­tal; but their expan­sion of rock­’s son­ic pos­si­bil­i­ties will out­last us all.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Andy Warhol Explains Why He Decid­ed to Give Up Paint­ing & Man­age the Vel­vet Under­ground Instead (1966)

Watch Footage of the Vel­vet Under­ground Com­pos­ing “Sun­day Morn­ing,” the First Track on Their Sem­i­nal Debut Album The Vel­vet Under­ground & Nico (1966)

A Sym­pho­ny of Sound (1966): Vel­vet Under­ground Impro­vis­es, Warhol Films It, Until the Cops Turn Up

The Vel­vet Under­ground Cap­tured in Col­or Con­cert Footage by Andy Warhol (1967)

Watch The Vel­vet Under­ground Per­form in Rare Col­or Footage: Scenes from a Viet­nam War Protest Con­cert (1969)

Hear The Vel­vet Underground’s “Leg­endary Gui­tar Amp Tapes,” Which Show­cas­es the Bril­liance & Inno­va­tion of Lou Reed’s Gui­tar Play­ing (1969)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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