The Velvet Underground (documentary)

After watching it a week ago, I’ve been thinking about the new documentary about The Velvet Underground and I have decided that it’s a bit rubbish.

My youngest went to see it at the cinema the other night and she encapsulated the problem perfectly when she texted me, “They just became a better band after John Cale and Warhol left.” The problem with the documentary, directed by Todd Haynes, is that it seems not to realise this. It is so in love with (and spends so much time on) the arty Warhol Superstars bullshit that it neglects the part of the Velvets career where they were quite good.

John Cale’s involvement means his avant garde wank is given undue prominence, as is the talentless German drone of Nico. That first album may be seminal, but it sounds awful, and I feel the same about White Light/White Heat. And all those drug songs, are so, so, boring.

It was only after Cale left and Doug Yule joined that they became the band that Jonathan Richman (interviewed in the doc) fell in love with, and, for an all-too-brief period in 1969-70, recorded and performed their greatest music. Their live recordings from 1969 are all that really matters in the grand scheme of things. But the documentary has very little to say about this period. Apart from to note that the personnel changes happened. Behind all the fancy editing and split screens, it all felt rather hollow and soulless, in the way of all that Andy Warhol stuff.

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