The Velvet Underground & Nico (1966)

Director: Andy Warhol

I’m shocked, shocked: Warhol actually DID make films that involved more than just leaving the camera in one fixed position and filming whatever happened… I mean, the camera’s still in one position as far as I can tell, and there’s no cuts except for the mid-film reel change, but damn, there’s focus pulling, zoom lens abuse, panning, aperture stuff… compared to Vinyl, it’s positively hyperactive. This is VERY early Velvets—so much so that Moe Tucker’s bass drum is still the right way up—predating the recording of the first album and the first Exploding Plastic Inevitable shows (if the IMDB is correct with its dates). And I’ve no doubt I had absolutely no appreciation of this fact when I first saw a bit of this film in a documentary about Warhol that was on TV a very long time ago. At that time I’d heard of the Velvet Underground but not actually heard them; it was, as I recall, January 1992 when I first did so, so the documentary must’ve aired in ’91, and that brief excerpt intrigued me greatly before I heard the first album. And I was puzzled and disappointed by that album, cos it didn’t really sound like the band in that bit in the Warhol doco. It took a while but I did come to respect the “banana album”, whereas when I first heard White Light/White Heat a few months later I took to it much more immediately; it sounded much more what I thought the Velvets would sound like based on that clip. (Just as well I didn’t start with Loaded or I’d have REALLY been confused.) With the passage of time, etc, I now have a somewhat better appreciation of the band’s history, and maybe why they sounded like they do in the film rather than how they did on record… at this stage in the game, John Cale would’ve been still reasonably fresh from doing stuff with LaMonte Young and Tony Conrad, and I suppose that kind of influenced what we see the band do here, which is essentially a long, trancey instrumental jam, the drone element kind of emphasised by the fact that Moe’s drums are so hard to hear; for the most part all you can make out are the amplified instruments, i.e. the guitars, the bass and Cale’s viola. Best for Velvets or Warhol completists; one of those films where if you’re not already into the band it probably won’t convert you. Even if it kind of did maybe convert me back in 1991…

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2 thoughts on “The Velvet Underground & Nico (1966)

  1. Joel Bocko July 9, 2014 at 2:17 am

    I always thought this was a recordin of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable Show, so now I’m intrigued – what is it exactly? I love their album with Nico, much more than the others in fact. It’s so diverse yet singular – as the kid said who lent it to me for the first time way back when, “This album contains worlds.”

  2. James R. July 10, 2014 at 12:11 am

    It’s basically them jamming in a corner of The Factory for about 55 minutes. Kind of similar to some of what I’ve heard of the EPI shows (there’s some bootleg material from some of those in existence).

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