Director Todd Haynes on Lou Reed from Velvet Underground documentary


Even if your knowledge of Velvet Underground begins and ends with the famous cover art for the band’s 1964 debut album, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” – an Andy Warhol copy of a banana – Todd Haynes makes you want to go. know more.

The director (“The Velvet Goldmine”, “Carol”) painted a captivating portrait of a band revered not for their massive successes, but for a bold demeanor that harmonized perfectly with 1960s New York City.

“The Velvet Underground,” which debuts Friday on Apple TV +, intentionally eschews interviews with other artists or talking heads, but it benefits from the participation of Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale, drummer Moe Tucker and of Merrill Reed Weiner, sister of mercurial frontman / guitarist Lou Reed, who died in 2013.

Haynes, who first became involved with the project in 2017, spoke to USA TODAY about his bold artistic decisions for the film, as well as the continued influence of the art-rock group.

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Q: Your experience certainly shows your love of music, especially “The Velvet Goldmine”. But what made you want to delve into their story in The Velvet Underground?

Todd Haynes: I was a big fan of the music, of the band, of the time. It was the prequel to (Haynes’ 1998 film) “The Velvet Goldmine” because the character played by Ewan McGregor (Curt Wild), people were sort of characterizing him as an Iggy Pop-esque character because ‘he looked like him physically. But he was really an amalgamation of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. This American and proto-punk component of the late 60s was a necessary ingredient in glam rock. The glam of it all was very English, but he needed that grain.

Q: Has John Cale always been on board?

Haynes: He was aware of how we started (the project). I wanted to film (avant-garde filmmaker) Jonas (Mekas, deceased in January 2019) right away and saw him as a very valuable cargo in this film. Otherwise, it was really about John’s approval and agreement to participate and wanting to hear it before we started talking to anyone.

The Velvet Underground (L to R): Moe Tucker, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed from 'The Velvet Underground' stock photos, premiering on Apple TV + on October 15, 2021.

Q: He pretty much summed up the group with his commentary on the standard set for how to be stylish and how to be brutal. Is that how you saw the music for The Velvet Underground?

Haynes: Well, that and much more. There’s a lot that John says (about the band) – how to combine (German composer) Wagner with R&B and maintain an avant-garde sensibility, but apply that to the street in context and the lyrical components that Lou Reed was composing. The collapse of high and low culture, high end ideas with gritty rock ‘n’ roll. They all came together in this music and in this collection of improbable people from very different places; half came from Long Island and the other half from Europe and it all took place within this unique era.

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Q: Have you never met Lou Reed?

Haynes: No, I saw him roaming New York at openings, but I never had the courage to go to him.

Q: His sister Merrill really gives a glimpse of how Lou grew up. How did you get him to dance in the cinema?

Haynes: She just demonstrated the “ostrich dance” and I said: “Show us! and she was delighted to do so. At first she was suspicious, but I wanted to include the stories that were going around about (Lou’s) shock therapy and how he used it to gain sympathy and credibility to say, “My parents were trying to shock me. the gay. ” It became the supposed prospect, and I think (Merrill) has every reasonable chance to believe it was more complicated than that. Their parents may not have been particularly homophobic, but they were concerned about this child for many reasons, such as the use of a lot of drugs. The standard practice at the time to deal with a lot of these things was shock treatment and that’s what they (chose to do).

Q: Has Merrill seen the movie?

Haynes: Yes, she was so moved. I saw her at the premiere and she was sobbing during the movie and it really touched her. I can now think of myself as a member of the Reed family. It would have been a different movie if Lou was alive … I would have given anything to make Lou a part of it, but we had to think of ways to find footage of him and postpone our access to him (in the movie ) until the end with Andy (Warhol).

Paul Morrissey, from left, Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and Moe Tucker from archival photography in a split screen frame of

Q: A few people are commenting on Lou’s temper, saying he wasn’t sure about himself and looked like a 3 year old. Did any of these revelations surprise you?

Haynes: They surprised me at the clarity with which they manifested themselves so early in Lou. And that continued to be the way people talked about Lou Reed, especially reporters who had a hard time interviewing him. But long before that, you’d see things like the way he defiantly played his swish-iness and played his weird affectations to shock his father.

Q: Talk about some of your artistic choices like frequently using screenshots of band members (from Andy Warhol’s studio, The Factory) as the main focal point and also not having traditional performance footage until at the end.

Haynes: The latter is that there is no performance footage during the years they were releasing records and I was never really interested in the reunion tour (1993). We really made the decision to focus on the time and place. I wanted the movie itself to show audiences that they could find out what was unique about themselves. When it comes to those screen tests, you get the impression that the person is there, witnessing their own story told in a documentary. You have the impression that they are alive, that they breathe, that they exist right in front of you.


Corina C. Butler

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