The Velvet Underground doc is probably as good as a "rock and roll documentary" can be (this is both a compliment and an insult). While there isn't any video footage of the VU playing, Haynes still has a lot of Factory/Jonas Mekas footage to pull from and uses the Chelsea Girls dual screen style for most of the film. The first half is much more interesting, as it gives a broader focus on the downtown minimalist/Warhol scene; the second half is a more familiar "Lou Reed is an asshole" rock band struggle story.
A few stray thoughts:
- I am shocked that La Monte Young is alive and looks like a hippie leather daddy
- The end of the closing credits stipulates specifically that Andy Warhol's artwork is not to be replicated or copied in any way, which *c'mon*
- No mention of "Murder Mystery", which I suspect partly is that it undercuts the narrative that the VU was becoming a more normal rock band without Cale/Warhol
- Reed mostly comes across as the main asshole here. Nico is mostly just shown as this innocent mystical creature and there's a line about how Cale could be difficult, but Reed is made out to be the main reason the band breaks apart. I wonder if Reed would have been a part of this had he been alive (also I wonder if it took his death for this to finally be started). The movie also really underplays their drug usage - aside from a reference to Reed buying heroin in Harlem as the inspiration for "Waiting For My Man", you wouldn't think any of these people were raging addicts.
- Haynes must have been working on this for years - Jonas Mekas is interviewed and he passed 2.5 years ago