Todd Haynes is making his documentary feature debut with the upcoming “The Velvet Underground,” a dive into the makings of the 1960s band led by Lou Reed and the cultural landscape that surrounded them. Haynes recently teased the film, currently in post-production, during an extended conversation hosted by the Museum of Modern Art, embedded below.
The Oscar-nominated “Far From Heaven” and “Carol” filmmaker said he completed all the interviews for the film, which were shot by his trusted cinematographer Ed Lachman, in 2018 before heading into shooting “Dark Waters.” His editors on the film are Affonso Gonçalves, who has cut many of Haynes’ films, and Adam Kurnitz.
“It’s such an archive-based film that when I got to turn my attentions to it fully, it was right at the end of last year and the beginning of this year,” he said. “I was staying at a place in Venice and I was editing in Venice, and [Affonso] and I were like, ‘Well we’ve been in it together this long, we’ll probably be okay with each other.’ Everyone else cleared out of this facility. Adam stayed in New York. The three of us maintained closeness in this process.”
Haynes said he hasn’t been as hands on with a film since his experimental Bob Dylan-inspired saga “I’m Not There” in 2007. “These are films that needed everyone’s hands on deck. It’s been a fantastic creative process,” Haynes said.
The filmmaker also talked about the themes of the documentary, which looks closely at one of the most influential rock bands of all time and the artistically milieu of Andy Warhol and the Factory.
“I got to turn my attention to something so utterly different in temperament, in texture and in language,” Haynes said of the pivot from “Dark Waters” to the documentary. “We were trying to do some very different things using archives and really delving into the language and the sinew and the texture and the unbelievable exuberance of ’60s avant-garde cinema that surrounded this culture and permeated the experiences of all of these artists working in different mediums ,and that gave birth to and really defined what the Velvet Underground were, and how their music came to mean.”
All Haynes films, from “Safe” to “Carol” and his explosive debut “Poison,” offer a critique or inquiry into normative (or not) modes of being, and he said during the MoMA chat that his Velvet Underground doc will also adopt a queer lens. “Part of the ambition behind making another film with the word Velvet in it was the gayness, the queerness, the sense of camp,” he said, referring to his 1998 gay glam-rock musical drama “Velvet Goldmine.”
“Artists, particularly Warhol, were calling into questions all kinds of attitudes and assumptions and ways of reading dominant culture that had preceded him, in his work, his films, and his art, but also in the way he lived and the way he drew people around him into the Factory,” Haynes said. “I insist there is something essential about that queerness, or gayness… or ‘faggotiness’ to this music. It’s a way of seeing, and Warhol might call that Popism and Susan Sontag might call that camp, but it was a way of framing, the way you looked at mass American culture, and the desire that we all have to read it and watch it and see it and consume it.”
“The Velvet Underground” has yet to secure a distributor or release date.