Almost fifty years since The Velvet Underground went their separate ways, their legacy only grows. Now understood as pivotal in pushing the boundaries of music at the time, Todd Haynes’ documentary tells the band’s story through talking heads and archive voiceover interviews, on top of grainy footage from performances, photoshoots, and collaborations with Andy Warhol.

Interviewees, including surviving band members and those from the wider scene, call him Andy. There’s a feeling everybody who was somebody in 1960s New York knew everybody else, and those who are left invite you into their circle for two hours. They were edgy and destructive, while on the west coast, hippies were handing out flowers to end wars. From this fertile community came The Velvet Underground. The way they tell it, it was organic but haphazard. Lou Reed’s abrasive behaviour finding some harmony with John Cale’s love of drone is a small miracle in itself.

The film’s charm is in the way it places The Velvet Underground within a time and place. They were young artists during a period of change, which many romanticise for its poets, folk singers, and visual artists too. It’s less interested in a biography of the band’s achievements than it is telling stories of the potent creativity they were a part of. So much time has passed that there is an inherent nostalgic reverence, which non-fans may not completely understand, although it’s enough to get swept up in. Those unfamiliar with the band and the surrounding culture will struggle to identify the significance of each interviewee, with Haynes unhelpfully providing biographies for all involved only before the end credits.

As such, The Velvet Underground is the kind of film that ends with 20 new tabs open. It is itself a folk tale, told by those who were there over half a century ago, about how it all felt. You’ll wish you were there.



DIRECTOR: Todd Haynes

SYNOPSIS: The Velvet Underground explores the multiple threads that converged to bring together one of the most influential bands in rock and roll.