Reviews

The Velvet Underground: Under Review [DVD]

Charlotte Robinson

Yes, it would have been nice if the Velvet Underground had made 10 million dollars, but it's even better that they made music that still influences people today.


The Velvet Underground

Under Review [DVD]

Label: Sexy Intellectual
US Release Date: 2006-04-25
UK Release Date: 2006-05-22
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

The Velvet Underground have been mentioned in so many documentaries, whether for their association with Andy Warhol or their status as progenitors of the punk movement, that it seems like their story has been told a thousand times. In reality, there are no commercially available feature-length documentaries on the band, despite their being widely regarded as one of the most original and influential musical groups of the rock era. Finally filling that void is the band's entry in the Under Review rockumentary series. Billed as "an independent critical analysis", the new DVD boasts rare, unseen footage and new interviews with former VU members Maureen Tucker and Doug Yule and Warhol Factory mainstay Billy Name.

The Velvets' story is an intriguing one, bringing together the disparate worlds of high and low culture, and peripherally involving such colorful characters as LaMonte Young, Warhol, Nico, Michelangelo Antonioni, Betsey Johnson, and Ahmet Ertegun. However, Under Review chooses not to tell the Velvets' story in much detail, instead focusing on the opinions of interviewees including respected music critic Robert Christgau, From the Velvets to the Voidoids author Clinton Heylin, Dean Wareham, whose former band Luna opened for the Velvets on their 1993 reunion tour, and writer/musician Joe Harvard. Few of their comments are particularly insightful and will sound overblown to anyone who isn't already a huge fan of the band's music. Heylin, for example, calls "Venus in Furs" the most important pop song since "Heartbreak Hotel" and claims there was no such thing as rock music until the Velvets' first album appeared. The most interesting insights come from the interviewees who were there when the music was made. Norman Dolph, who engineered the Velvets' first professional recordings (most of which ended up on their debut album) and unsuccessfully tried to get the band a deal with Columbia Records, provides details about the recording sessions while Steve Nelson, manager of the Boston Tea Party, where the Velvets played many gigs, provides an interesting portrait of them as a "dance band" entertaining a largely working-class crowd in Boston -- quite a different scene from the hip art crowd that frequented their gigs back home in New York.

The documentary also includes vintage footage of the Velvets in action by Warhol, Ronald Nameth, Rosalind Stevenson, and Claude Ventura; there are also some performance clips from their reunion shot by Declan Lowrey. Thankfully, there's also a lot of music, although most of it comes from the band's studio albums, which don't tell the whole story. The numerous studio outtakes and live recordings that surfaced after the band's demise prove how varied their influences were and show that they worked from a stunningly diverse musical palette. This diversity is only hinted at in Under Review; for instance, Lou Reed's love of doo wop is mentioned, but it's never shown how this influence worked its way into the Velvets' music (and it occasionally did). There are other holes in the story as well. For instance, there is no mention of the Velvets' short-lived but influential original drummer, Angus MacLise, and the band's disintegration is covered so quickly that it sounds as though Maureen Tucker and Sterling Morrison participated in Squeeze, the final release credited to the Velvets, although Doug Yule was the only holdover from the previous version of the band. A few factual errors pop up as well: Nico, who sang with the group for a time at Warhol's suggestion, is referred to as Hungarian (she was German), and her first single is said to be Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It with Mine" (it was Gordon Lightfoot's "I'm Not Sayin'").

Most unfortunate is Lou Reed's and John Cale's nonparticipation. Their comments in the generous, David Fricke-penned book that accompanied the 1995 box set Peel Slowly and See were witty and insightful and gave a warm humanity to a band that is too often pigeonholed as New York sleaze incarnate. Doug Yule and the ever-cool Maureen Tucker have to do the job here, providing first-hand accounts of life in the VU. It is Tucker, who spent several post-Velvets years raising her kids in Georgia while working at Wal-Mart, who gets the last word. Yes, she says, it would have been nice if the Velvet Underground had made 10 million dollars, but it's even better that they made music that still influences people today. For that reason alone, Under Review is worthwhile, as it pays tribute to the band's staying power even if it isn't an essential release.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image