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The Velvet Underground and Nico (1966)

"A Symphony of Sound" - depicts a rehearsal of The Velvet Underground and Nico at the Factory, 231 East 47th St., (loft on 4th floor), New York City. It is essentially a one long loose ... See full summary »

Director:

Andy Warhol
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Cast

Credited cast:
John Cale ... Himself
Gerard Malanga Gerard Malanga ... Himself
Sterling Morrison Sterling Morrison ... Himself
Billy Name Billy Name ... Himself
Nico ... Herself
Christian Päffgen Christian Päffgen ... Ari (as Ari)
Lou Reed ... Himself
Stephen Shore Stephen Shore ... Himself
Maureen Tucker Maureen Tucker ... Herself
The Velvet Underground The Velvet Underground
Andy Warhol ... Himself
Mary Woronov ... Dancer
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Storyline

"A Symphony of Sound" - depicts a rehearsal of The Velvet Underground and Nico at the Factory, 231 East 47th St., (loft on 4th floor), New York City. It is essentially a one long loose improvisation including some private conversations and a brief visit from the NYPD. Written by Ulf Kjell Gür

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Documentary | Music

Parents Guide:

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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

8 February 1966 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Andy Warhol Films See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Connections

Featured in Warhol's Cinema 1963-1968: Mirror for the Sixties (1989) See more »

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User Reviews

 
waiting for the point
3 March 2016 | by MisterWhiplashSee all my reviews

The first thing you must, must, MUST know if you are a Velvet fan- as I've been becoming over the past couple of years- is that this is the earliest period, their starting point with Nico, the Swedish model-singer-actress-what-have-you and that Warhol's participation was more as a booking agent and producer. It was "his" band the way that The Sex Pistols were Malcolm McLaren's group, which is to say not really. Sure he 'produced' the group's first banana-covered album (ho-ho), but the band arguably really hit their stride once they left Warhol, specifically with their final album (albeit without John Cale) titled Loaded.

When they were with Warhol, however, they were still extremely experimental, and doing long-ass jams in a similar way as the Grateful Dead would do later: so long as jams that you would need Raoul Duke's whole carload of psychedelics to get by. And Warhol's "Film" (must use quotes here for justification) is not them performing some of their more well-known songs from the debut LP like 'Heroin' or 'Venus in Furs', or even one of their best songs 'Femme Fatale'. No no no, this is one of the jams (there is a track I believe on that first LP like that, only that was cut way down due to the constraints of an LP at the time). And Warhol and his camerman Paul "Flesh for Frankenstein/Dracula/etc" Morrissey, decided to document this auspicious occasion of their jamming out.

And... what the (bleep) is this? I really have to wonder what Warhol's intention was here. As a document of a performance, as a "concert movie" it's all over the place, a total mixed bag of nuts. The biggest problem is an inconsistency with what to do with the camera. When Warhol/Morrissey keep the lens focused on a face or a full person or an instrument, hell even that cute little kid that Nico's got there, it's actually kind of interesting. Kind of. At least you can see some raw attitude in those moments of momentary stillness on a person or an instrument. And even at first the experiment of zooming in and out on faces and roaming around works. Kind of.

But this is an hour-long jam, and the camera-work continues to go through its motions for a full hour. An hour of a Wayne's World intro-style EXTREME CLOSE-UP can be annoying as all hell after a while. Such as for an hour. And this doesn't count the out-of-focus angles as Morrissey tries to hone in on the band members, or sometimes just wanders off (later in the film the Fuzz comes to break up the distorted-rock commotion, but nobody can hear the cops even after the band stops so the documentary aspect is also total garbage). I have to think that it was a camera test, that maybe Morrissey was still a novice at cinematography and decided to test out his lens and tri-pod and pans and zooms and the lighting (which also goes in and out) on a performance at the "Factory" of the Velvets and Nico just doing their thing.

One of the things Warhol was known for was for trying to make an audience feel bored and empty, which he thought was "good" somehow. "Because the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel." (hey, his words, not mine) This isn't a case like Empire where one looks at the same image non-stop- or doesn't, as case might be- this is for all intents and purposes and document of the band in its time and place. Who knows, maybe for its time and place it was all so innovative to do such crazy things with a camera (like zoom-in, zoom-out, zoom-IN, zoom-in, focus-in, focus-out). It's like camera aerobics or something. For some it might be captivating - or if it's projected on a wall at a party and one only has to glance at it for short bursts while talking with friends. Maybe that was its reason for being.

It doesn't help that the jam, as good as the musicians are at it (save for Nico who doesn't have much to do except to play maracas and at one point try some weird slide crap on a guitar that no one can hear), is so long and repetitive that it, too, loses its meaning in the miasma of the camera style. I should also note there are no edits at all- hey, who needs a flatbed when it can be all in-camera, man? To be sure, there are moments where the band picks up and makes it rock a bit, and a lot of this, ironically, comes in the last ten minutes when one of the guitarists steps away (I forget which as Lou Reed is the one given the most screen time, maybe due to proximity or his "cool" detached manner), and a violin player comes in. I suppose if you love a good, long jam, this is at least musically (when the sound doesn't DIP OUT, argh), it's enjoyable experimental/alternative listening.

But as a movie of any kind of sort outside of a test or an experiment, it's a mess. I have to wonder of Warhol and Morrissey were just f***ing with people with this. Who could they show it to outside of little underground cliques or the slavish-adoration at the Factory? Maybe... that was enough for him. I also wonder if the intention was to bore or to get an actual emotional reaction? Perhaps the worst thing one could say to Warhol after watching it is that it was 'great' and made one feel something positive. It's an assault on the senses, and even as a rock and roller it goes too far and becomes dated in its anti-conventional style. It both bored and annoyed me. Guess that's a win for the 15-minute dude, eh?


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