The Oscar-nominated documentary The velvet metro, about the influential avant-garde rock band of the 1960s led by Lou Reed, has been hailed as a “superb testimony to a lost world that helped create our own.”
These words come from New York Times critic Manohla Dargis, who listed The velvet metro as number three in her pick of the best movies of the year – fiction or non-fiction (her colleague AO Scott also put it on her Top 10 list).
The praise doesn’t just recognize the work of director Todd Haynes, the longtime filmmaker who makes his documentary debut with The velvet metro– but his collaborators, including editors Affonso Gonçalves and Adam Kurnitz, and director of photography Ed Lachman.
Over the course of his long career, Lachman has shot documentaries and scripted films, and won Oscar nominations for two of Haynes’ feature-length dramatic films, Carole (2015), and Far from the sky (2002). He says he doesn’t change his approach to photography depending on whether a film is fictional or not.
“I have to say, for me, there is no difference… I always say, in a weird way, all movies are documentations, even in a narrative form,” Lachman told Deadline. “You work with an actor, but no performance is ever the same. Where they hit the light, how the camera moves, you’re documenting something in time and space. So for me all movies are documentation.
The velvet metro inserts the viewer into the visual and sound environment from which the group was born: the maze of low-rent Manhattan of the mid-1960s, where Reed combined his energies with musicians John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Moe Tucker and, for a some time the German singer and model Nico. They crossed paths with experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas and pop artist Andy Warhol and his Factory scene.
Cale, Tucker and Factory star Mary Woronov were among those interviewed by Haynes for the film.
“A combination of Warhol’s silkscreen prints and his screen tests informed the way I would shoot the interviews,” says Lachman. “Andy’s screen tests where he just set up the Bolex and have someone look into the camera with just one light source, it became a touchstone for us. And then the printed silkscreens he did of movie stars, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and Debbie Harry, Jacqueline Onassis… It’s in the background of all the interviews – we would pick a color for each person. And then I lit it with gel, like Andy did with the color on their faces that was exactly natural.
Warhol’s original black-and-white screen tests appear in the documentary, often as a split-screen with archive footage. For publishers, it was a Velvet gold mine.
“I can’t tell you enough how complete a gift it was to have these [screen tests]Kurnitz notes. “It’s such a rare thing to be able to tell a person’s story and watch them all the time while you’re being told their life or childhood story. “
Reed, in particular, creates a striking presence, staring at the camera in these Warhol tests, barely blinking, the split screen next to him occupied with footage from that era.
“It becomes almost interactive because he’s watching us, he’s watching the audience,” Gonçalves says of Reed. “He’s looking at you… You listen to what’s being said, and you look at the archive footage and you check with Lou, or you just look at Lou all the time or Cale or Moe, whoever’s on screen… It becomes very, very intimate in a way.
In conversations with its editors, Haynes exposed the film’s intellectual strategy.
“He spoke about the importance of the culture of the time,” Kurnitz recalls, “that we weren’t just attacking this musical documentary, that it was a documentary about the culture of the time, the cinema of time and we had to work to get in shape The velvet metro in the scene he kind of sprang from.
“The interesting thing,” adds Gonçalves, “is that we had these mandates, like the culture of the time has to be integrated, and that has to be in the visual of the diptychs, triptychs and all the shapes that we found. And instead of being restrictive, it was actually liberating for us.
Gonçalves and Kurnitz have been nominated for the film’s cut at the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards and the upcoming Cinema Eye Honors Awards. The velvet metro, from Apple Original Films, is nominated for Best Non-Fictional Feature at the Cinema Eye Honors and Best Music Documentary at the IDA Awards next month in Hollywood.
The documentary premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last July, with Haynes and Kurnitz among those in attendance.
“[Cannes] was great. The audience absolutely loved it, ”says Kurnitz. “I will say showing him in New York, however, was a different experience because Lou is so funny and he’s so funny in a very New York-specific way that the audience here, I think, was much more receptive to his. humor Not that they weren’t in Cannes, but in New York, I mean, it was just a whole different feeling.
Reed died in 2013 at the age of 71. Lachman worked with him almost 50 years ago.
“I met Lou in 73, because I made his promo video for [the album] Berlin… He walked up to the camera while I was setting it up and he kicked the leg and said, ‘Do it like Andy,’ ”Lachman recalls. “I was horrified, shocked: ‘What is this? My camera. ‘ And then he went back to the microphone and that was it.
Years later, Lachman worked with Reed again, on a film built around the Reed and Cage collaboration in 1990. Songs for Drella, an album that paid homage to Warhol. Lachman says he reminded Reed of the previous incident when the rocker barked at him.
“I said, ‘You don’t remember, Lou, but when I did the promo video for Berlin, you came and kicked my camera, ”Lachman says. “And he said,” I don’t remember much then. “”
For those who don’t remember, or weren’t around when Reed, Cale, and their classmates were making music together, The velvet metro brings time to life in all its creative fervor.