Top Ten Movies of 2021 — Number Nine

Director Todd Haynes adheres to many of the standard practices of musical documentaries in The Velvet Underground. In tracking the history of the monumental band that toiled in Andy Warhol’s Factory, transformed rock music, and inspired countless descendants who sometimes aped their style but more often just strained for some fraction of their cool, Haynes hits upon the biographies of the various members, traces their career using album releases as handy milestones, and recounts the genesis and collapse of the collective. A staid, conventional approach to the filmmaking style just wouldn’t do for the Velvet Underground, though, and Haynes has the iconoclastic instincts to respond accordingly. Without sacrificing clarity, Haynes builds a film that in dense is sight, sound, and thought. He uses visual montages, largely comprised of arty vintage footage from the nineteen-sixties and nineteen-seventies, and sonic stews of the band’s seminal music. The film exalts in the astonishing invention of the band, occasionally fortified by expert testimony (in that, Jonathan Richman is the star witness). As effectively as the film conveys who the Velvet Underground were and what their impact was, it is more yet more impressive in carrying forward an enveloping feel of experiencing the band, in their time, in their city, in all their countercultural cacophony.

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