It was a wonderful time, but not exactly a golden age. Haynes has too much respect for art to idealize artists or impose retrospective harmony on their dissonances. The overt violence and threat of music – the droning and distortion of lyrics about addiction, sadism, and sexual exploitation – did not come out of nowhere.
Film critic Amy Taubin, who starred in Warhol’s film about “the most beautiful women in the world,” recalls directly that the Factory, Warhol’s headquarters, was a bad place for women who were valued for their looks rather than their talents. One aspect of Warhol’s genius was the gift of using people, and often of using them. Reed, who died in 2013, is a posthumously beloved figure, but not many of his contemporaries would describe him as a good person.
And the courtesy went against what the Velvet Underground was trying to do anyway. “We hated this world and love bullshit,” says Tucker. Artist Mary Voronova, who toured the West Coast with the Velvets, explains their hostility to the California counterculture: “We hated hippies.” Never a political group, it nevertheless formulated a powerful protest – against sentimentality, stupidity, false consciousness and positive thinking – that will sow the seeds of punk rock and subsequent uprisings. Singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman, who estimates having seen them live 60 or 70 times as a teenager in Boston, has witnessed their impact and whose enthusiasm hasn’t faded more than half a century later.
Throw a needle on any Velvet Underground record – or queue up a playlist if that’s how you ride – and what you hear will sound new, scary, and full of possibilities, even for thousands of listeners. “The Velvet Underground” will show you where this timeless newness comes from, and connects sound points with other, contemporary artistic eruptions. As a documentary, it is very informative. It is also a self-sustaining jagged and powerful piece of art that turns archeology into prophecy.
Rating R. “Heroin”, “Venus in Furs”, “Sister Ray” – you yourself will count. The duration of the performance is 1 hour 50 minutes. In theaters and Apple TV +.