Posts Tagged ‘Todd Haynes’

The Velvet Underground…and Nico

“THE VELVET UNDERGROUND”  My rating: B (Apple +)

121 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Todd Haynes’ new documentary about The Velvet Underground is a movie made by a fan for other fans.

It presumes a certain amount of shared musical history on the part of viewers. It is most definitely NOT “Velvet Underground 101.”  

It’s not interested in dragging out scholarly arguments about the Velvet Underground’s contribution to punk culture or in laying out a careful chronology of the band’s birth and demise.  There’s no analysis of the place of Velvets Lou Reed and John Cale as formidable  solo artists. Heck, I don’t think even one of the band’s songs is played from beginning to end…mostly we get tantalizing snippets. 

Instead Haynes (who has a history of music-themed films like “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,” “Velvet Goldmine” and the Dylan-centric “I’m Not There”) strives to give us a broad  impressionistic view of the personalities behind the Velvets and the early-‘60s Bohemian New York milieu which spawned them.

He draws heavily on archival footage of Andy Warhol’s Factory, with its heady mishmash of visual artists, actors, poets, dancers and musicians, creating hallucinogenic montages — including tons of split-screen effects — that look for all the world like one of those early rock concert light shows.

He interviews the two surviving members of the original Velvets (the viola-playing Welshman Cale and the androgynous drummer Maureen Tucker) and draws extensively on audio recordings of the late Lou Reed talking about his time with the band.

Fellow musician Jonathan Richman, a Velvets acolyte back in the day, pops up frequently to discuss why, in his estimation, the band mattered.

There is, of course, a chunk of the film devoted to the late Nico, the neurasthenic German blonde hand-picked by Warhol to be the band’s coolly sexy talisman and, hopefully, their introduction to the commercial mainstream. (Keep dreaming, Andy…not in a million years.)

On some levels “The Velvet Underground” is maddeningly superficial.  The rift between Cale and Reed that led to the latter secretly “firing” the former is written off as a personality clash.  Well, yeah, but how about some details?

And Reed’s notorious bad behavior (often drug-fueled) at various stages of his career is pushed aside and glossed over.

But to watch this doc is to be plunged into the heady world of early art rock with all its dissonance and angst.  It’s a time machine really, and for Velvet fans it’s a nostalgic trip back to the creation of a band that regarded nostalgia as the purview of losers.

| Robert W. Butler

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Mark Ruffalo

“DARK WATERS” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Dec. 6)

126 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

If in the New  Year America’s landfills are suddenly overflowing with discarded cooking paraphernalia you can blame “Dark Waters,” Todd Haynes’ fact-based examination of how DuPont, in developing Teflon, pretty much poisoned the world.

This legal procedural follows a decade long effort by Robert Bilott, an attorney whose firm counts DuPont as one of its major clients, to determine why first the cattle and later the people living around Parkersburg, West Virginia, began exhibiting bizarre birth defects, horrendous tumors and unexpectedly high death rates.

This isn’t the first time that Haynes have gone off on an environmental tangent. in 1995’s “Safe” he examined the plight of a woman who is literally allergic to just about aspect in modern life. But “Dark Waters” is unique in that it is the most straightforward, unambiguously non-artsy film in a directorial career marked by titles like “Far from Heaven,” “Velvet Goldmine” and “I’m Not There.”

In fact, the artsiest thing in the movie is its gray/blue palette…surely the sun sometimes shines in West Virginia?

Bilott, played with quiet intensity by Mark Ruffalo, is a big-city lawyer whose job is to defend chemical companies.  Then he’s approached by farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), an acquaintance of his grandma, who demands that the high-priced attorney investigate the death of more than 100 of his cows after they drank from a stream on his land.

The Tennant property  abuts a decades-old DuPont waste storage facility; almost from the get-go Bilott (and those of us in the audience) knows where this is going. The problem is proving it.

Matthew Michael Carnahan and Mario Correa’s screenplay (adapted from Nathaniel Rich’s magazine article) simultaneously focuses on Billot’s long search for answers and his personal journey, using what’s he’s learned representing chemical giants to go after them.

At the same time his singleminded devotion to the case threatens his marriage to Sarah (Anne Hathaway) and his job at a big Cincinnati law firm, where the partners (led by Tim Robbins)  only give him leave to pursue the Dupont matter in the hopes of getting a piece of a massive settlement.


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