The Velvet Underground comes to life in this amazing documentary from todd Haynes that mixes brand new interviews with the surviving members of the band along with a ton of rare and never-before-seen archival footage of the musicians touring, playing shows, and having fun with their famous friends. Criterion's new video transfer is excellent and the new Dolby Atmos track makes their music sound brand new again. The great extras are also a pleasure to watch. Highly Recommended!
When people think about the most influential bands of the '60s and '70s that captured music listeners across the globe and inspired countless other musicians for decades to come, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are usually at the top of those lists every single time. The one band that most people forget about is The Velvet Underground which delivered not only amazing and experimental rock n' roll tunes but also gave the world Nico, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and the legendary Lou Reed amongst others. And oddly, there has not been a sort of definitive documentary that covered this titular band until now that covers the heart and soul of the best years The Velvet Underground had to offer.
Director Todd Haynes (I'm Not There, Carol), who is no stranger to the music side of film steps onto the stage with The Velvet Underground and combines new interviews with the surviving members of the band along with a ton of wonderful archival footage for decades past. John Cale, Maureen Tucker, La Monte Young, Danny Fields, and Maureen Woronov are just some of the guests who fondly remember those amazing experiences back in the day in these brilliant new interviews. Listening to these new interviews about how the band came together and their anecdotes from the road and recording, along with some wonderful tidbits on the exclusive Andy Warhol is a ton of fun.
Haynes spruces up the talking head interview bits by making a picture-in-picture reel that has interviews with various subjects while archival footage is playing, which acts like an exquisite and fun video commentary track. The many clips of concerts and behind-the-scenes short films where Warhol served as the cameraman are pretty impressive. Older interviews of Reed and the company also serve their purpose and shed some great light on this incredible band that changed music forever. Over the course of its 120-minute runtime, there are plenty of interviews from people both alive and decades that give those delicious crumbs of information about this band and their music.
Of course, if everyone was still alive and available for new interviews, it would have been the ultimate Velvet Underground documentary. Haynes though allows for a ton of never-before-seen footage along with some new interviews to tell this excellent story about one of the world's most beloved and iconic bands. Apple TV+ knew right away how special this documentary was, which is why they snagged the rights and teamed up with Criterion to release it in physical form sans the shiny piece of leather.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Velvet Underground peels its way to Blu-ray via the Criterion Collection with a disc that's housed inside a hard, clear plastic case. The spine number is 1164 and it comes with a booklet full of images, information on the film, and an essay. The artwork is a reversed mirrored image of the band.
The Velvet Underground comes with a 1080p HD transfer that mixes both new interviews and a ton of archival footage, both in black and white and in color over the past few decades. According to the booklet, this is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.77:1 and was supervised by Haynes himself and the cinematographer. This digital master was created in 4K resolution.
With any type of documentary like this, the state of the image is all over the place due to the many varieties of source material, time periods, and condition of the prints. Criterion has delivered a pristine copy of the archival footage which looks amazing. The black and white footage looks crisp with some excellent filmic grain. The older scenes in color are cleaned up and look natural with varying states of grain that give it that edgy look. The new interviews look the best here where everything looks sharp and clear.
It's not exactly the most colorful documentary since there is not a ton of new footage other than talking head interviews, but those older short films and concert footage look great remastered here and keep with its aesthetic of the time. Black levels are inky and rich and the skin tones in the new interviews are natural. This is a very good-looking transfer for this type of documentary and Criterion should be proud.
This little documentary comes with a Dolby Atmos track through Criterion. Of course, being a documentary, a Dolby Atmos option seems like overkill, but hearing the hits of The Velvet Underground in Dolby Atmos is truly a wonder. The natural sounds from their concerts and interviews all sound great but rarely make it to the surround speakers. The real spotlight here is the music both live and the overplay of tunes throughout the film. The low end of bass kicks in here and genuinely compliments those treble notes perfectly. The dialogue is clear and easy to follow too.
There are about 142 minutes worth of bonus features here that include an audio commentary from the filmmaker and editors, along with uncut interview sessions and three avant-garde short films for fans to add to their collection.
The Velvet Underground documentary is one of those rare times when the world gets a glimpse of a reclusive band, their music, touring, and parties all in one. Haynes made this would-be run-of-the-mill documentary a lot of fun with some creative visual choices. Plus, the music throughout is a joy to listen to in Dolby Atmos. The bonus features are amazing and the video transfer is excellent. Criterion knocked it out of the park here. Highly Recommended!