“Take a walk down to Union Square. You never know who you’re gonna find there.” Todd Haynes, the director of Carol, I’m Not There, Far from Heaven and the glam-rock movie Velvet Goldmine, will explore the Velvet Underground in his first documentary feature. The as-yet-untitled film is being produced by Christine Vachon at Killer Films, David Blackman and Universal Music Group. This will be the second TV series for Haynes, who directed HBO’s Mildred Pierce.
At the Locarno Film Festival where Haynes is being honored with the Pardo d’onore Manor career achievement award, the director said he will include interviews with the surviving members of the band and the underground music movement of the 1960s.
It’s been more than fifty years since the album The Velvet Underground & Nico debuted. The band was formed in 1964 by former garage band songwriter and guitarist Lou Reed, Welsh classical music student and multi-instrumentalist John Cale, Long Island trumpet playing band geek turned guitarist Sterling Morrison, and drummer Angus MacLise, who was replaced by Moe Tucker in 1965. After performing in the multimedia roadshow, Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Andy Warhol put the band together with Christa Päffgen, a songwriting model and actress who was featured in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), going under the stage Nico. The album was not the usual pop music, British Invasion fair. Songs about scoring dope shared grooves with tuneful S&M fantasies and loving ballads of urban decay.
Haynes told Variety he will “rely certainly on Warhol film, but also a rich culture of experimental film, a vernacular we have lost and we don’t have, [and that] we increasingly get further removed from.” He admitted the film would be “challenging” because the band was under-documented, but told Variety he is looking forward to “the thrill of the research and visual assemblage” and “getting in deep to the resources and material and stock and archival footage and the actual cinema and experimental work.”
Haynes also announced he is preparing a limited TV bio-series for Amazon about “an intensely important figure of immense historical and cultural influence.” He didn’t reveal which band that would be.
The Velvet Underground “come out of a truly experimental cross-section of film, contemporary art, and a rejection of mainstream consumer culture at a very rich and fertile time of the 1960s in New York City,” Haynes told Variety. “They’re the most influential of bands.
“Their influence has nothing to do with sales or visibility or the ways we portion ideas of success,” Haynes told Variety. The band’s debut album only sold 30,000 copies, but they were the right copies. They got into the hands of David Bowie, who covered Velvet Underground songs on his Ziggy Stardust tour. “As Brian Eno said, everybody who bought [The Velvet Underground & Nico] started a band,” Haynes reminded Variety.
Haynes told Variety the upcoming Velvet Underground documentary “needs to be an intensely visual experience.”
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