The Velvet Underground

Volume One [DVD]

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Footage of the Velvet Underground is scarce, and what exists isn't too exciting or even too watchable. At least some does exist, however, and this two-hour bootleg DVD gathers much of it in one place, even if the presentation and packaging leave much to be desired. Only about half of the contents are listed on the case, those being Andy Warhol's 1966 films Symphony in Sound and Moe in Bondage, both shot at the Factory in 1966. Symphony in Sound is actually only the second reel, or the second half or so, of Andy Warhol's 67-minute film The Velvet Underground and Nico (A Symphony of Sound). In the reel included here, we see the band play a typically discordant instrumental for 20 minutes or so, with Nico playing tambourine and her three-year-old son, Ari, picking up the maracas. Policemen appear at some points, presumably in response to noise complaints, though they don't do much, and the segment ends with the Velvets and other Factory workers just hanging around the Factory. Although the music and fidelity aren't too good, at least this does supply part of the only film, unbelievably, in which the 1960s Velvet Underground can be seen clearly, playing music in real time. Moe in Bondage is duller, consisting of a half-hour or so of Velvets drummer Moe Tucker tied up in a chair as bandmates Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, and John Cale sit around her eating, occasionally offering her food, and talking inaudibly. Unnoted on the album's case, strangely, are a bunch of extras. Even odder, those extras include much of the footage of the Velvet Underground playing in 1966, and footage of other vaguely Velvets-Warhol-related private gatherings from the era, that appear on the same label's Volume Two Velvet Underground DVD. These scenes are frustrating inasmuch as they're mostly a jumble of blurry vari-speed clips in which the band is rarely seen; the only music consists of extremely low-fidelity early live recordings, little or none of which seems to have been recorded at the same time the images were filmed; and there are long stretches in which no music at all is heard. Most of the footage, indeed, is of dancers and what one presumes is some of the audience. The same is true of another piece on the DVD, the 1966 short film Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, though here at least the image quality is better, and there's the interesting novelty of hearing live versions of "Heroin" and "Venus in Furs" performed on the soundtrack by a lineup with Cale on vocals, Tucker on bass, and original VU drummer Angus MacLise (Reed was in the hospital at the time). There's yet more: a 1991 video of Nico footage produced for the "Frozen Warning" track in conjunction with a CD reissue of her The Marble Index album; a faintly ludicrous segment on Andy Warhol's Factory (done after his death) on a straight news program; and an unidentified scene, one would guess from a Warhol film, with Edie Sedgwick. The DVD's something of an endurance test taken all together, and accentuates the tragic absence of any known reasonable-quality footage of the Velvet Underground actually playing good songs in their heyday.