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  • Writer's pictureAndy Ross

The Velvet Underground

Many years ago I was standing in the hallway between classes at high school talking with a friend. The friend and I both had very similar tastes in music and we often talked about music as much as we could. As we were talking about something that day, I don’t remember what, he handed me a CD with an Andy Warhol of a banana on the cover. “Take his home and listen to it tonight, I think you’ll like it.”

The album was “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” the debut album by the legendary New York City rock band that many have called the birth of alternative rock. The legend goes that the album didn’t sell many copies, but everyone who bought one started a band. The band’s influence goes far and wide, despite having only made four albums during their run. David Bowie was hugely influenced by the group and was eager to repay the favor by producing member Lou Reed’s 1972 album “Transformer.”

The band members, Reed, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, and Sterling Morrison all brought Avant-Garde and art to rock and roll. They soon caught the eye of Andy Warhol, who took the band under his wing and was listed as a producer on the band’s first album. Two years ago, director Todd Haynes' new documentary on the band “The Velvet Underground” premiered on Apple’s streaming service AppleTV+.

This very good documentary makes its home video debut thanks to The Criterion Collection, who have released it on blu-ray and DVD. The documentary is a great watch and thankfully doesn’t go over things that haven’t been talked about time and time again for those who are fans of the band. It features interviews with surviving members Tucker and Cale, and those who were around at the time of the band’s first appearances at Warhol’s Factory (such as indie actress Mary Woronov). Plus, beloved iconoclastic musician and fan Jonathan Richman.

Sourced from the original 4K digital master, this new blu-ray has been approved by both Director Haynes and the cinematographer, Ed Bachman. The DVD features the movie in a 5.1 Dolby Digital track, while the blu-ray exclusively has a Dolby Atmos mix, which expands greatly on the audio placement possibilities of the traditional 5.1 surround sound stage. An alternate stereo mix is also included.

The movie looks great, its experimental art house film style works beautifully and goes along great with the style of The Velvet Underground. I can’t playback Dolby Atmos, which requires a special receiver and additional speakers than I currently have in my home theater, so I sampled the Stereo mix instead. It’s great. Clear, and sharp, and the music sounds as good as it ever has.

Bonus materials on this disc are a little on the light side for Criterion but are nonetheless very good. We have a commentary with Haynes and the film’s editors, Alfonso Conclaves and Adam Kurnitz. Outtakes from the interviews made with Woronov, Richman, and filmmaker Joan Mekas. Plus we have a conversation between surviving members Cale and Tucker, with writer Jenn Kelly from last year.

Also included are the full versions of some of the avant-garde films excerpted in the documentary, plus annotations that run with the documentary of what film is being clipped at that time. For fans of The Velvet Underground, this is a great documentary that is well worth your time, Criterion has done a great job bringing a title that was born into the streaming world to a disc that would be a nice addition to any music lover’s collection. See you next week.


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