The Velvet Underground

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Considering the amount of nonconforming nihilism and punk prophecy inextricably linked to the band, the last place one expected Todd Haynes’ (Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven) account to begin was with a clip from the unquestionably aboveground game show, I’ve Got a Secret. (Bandmate John Cales’ secret was his participation in an 18 hour 40 minute piano performance of Erik Satie’s “Vexations.”) Even before the lights dimmed, a conflict of interest loomed: I have a hypersensitivity to the band and one of it’s early backers, Andy Warhol. (As a filmmaker, the man knew his soup.) Thankfully, my job is to review artistic execution, not subject matter. Growing up, I was all about peace and love, man, not beating a piano to death with a hammer in the name of performance art. Hippies like me put down stakes at Grateful Dead concerts, the mere mention of which evokes a hilarious, if not terribly hurtful rebuke from former Factory Girl Mary Woronov. What I lack in musical awareness is offset by an ability to appreciate both standout documentary storytelling and a ravishing work of imagination. Full frame clips inserted in widescreen films are usually locked center-scan and bordered by black. Like the band that inspired him, Haynes’ jockeying of the footage is at first tasteless and unnerving, but it soon grows on you. His multi-image split-screen system shifts the mosaic imagery around the frame with the same delight a child takes in rearranging tiles in a plastic slide puzzle. Hayne’s first foray into documentary filmmaking ends up being his most daring effort since Safe. (2021) — Scott Marks

Rated R | 2 hours
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