The Velvet Underground & Nico - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Velvet Underground & Nico Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ January 4, 2012
This film is difficult to rate. If you're not a Velvet Underground fan, consider it a tedious mess which you should avoid at all costs. Even if you're a casual VU fan who just wants to hear the "hits," you will be bitterly disappointed. But if you're a true believer in VU's uncompromising aesthetic as a blueprint for music to come, you won't want to miss this rare look at the band in action.

This is essentially the only decent footage of the Velvet Underground performing, and it captures the group's ultimate lineup with both John Cale and chanteuse Nico. The film originally was intended as a background projection for the group's live shows during setup and tuning.

Under Andy Warhol's "direction," the camera sits on a tripod about 15 feet away. It pivots, zooms and drifts in and out of focus. The zooming is crucial, because its amateurish overuse constantly leaves the viewer frustrated about sights which lie outside the frame. There seems to be one cut halfway through the film, but perhaps this was just a flaw of the particular version I saw. In any case, it is one continuous take.

After two minutes of aimless tuning, the music lurches into motion and takes the form of an extended instrumental, approximately 50 minutes long. The shaggy improvisation is essentially one-chord, and intermittently has the flavor of a vaguely Middle Eastern drone. The members are mostly seated throughout, and everyone but Nico wears dark glasses. Guitarists Lou Reed (who had a terminal case of bedhead, even then) and Sterling Morrison are at left. John Cale plays viola in the front right, and drummer Mo Tucker is behind him. Nico moves around a bit, but typically lurks in the center while casually tapping a tambourine. She draws the most closeups because, after all, she is the beauty. Her young son is perched on the floor in front of her, making amused faces and sometimes shaking a maraca.

If you want a comparison with a canonical Velvets track, the closest relative is probably the first album's "European Son." One big thrill is seeing a few closeups where Reed tightly jiggles his pick across the strings, creating that high, febrile tremor which will make any VU fan crow with recognition. Ah, there is that sound! There are solid shots of Cale sawing away too, and he also spends some time experimenting with what appear to be amplified bedsprings vertically strung on a rack. However, Reed's body hides most of Morrison's guitar work, and the nonchalant Tucker simply isn't trying very hard.

The music's momentum and sense of purpose begin to erode with about 20 minutes to go (Reed seems especially distracted), and the band stops playing altogether eight or nine minutes later. The remaining portion of the film is fairly disposable, beyond offering some glimpses of Warhol and a brief look at Reed without his glasses. A policeman or two walks around good-naturedly -- apparently, a neighbor protested the noise. No surprise there.
½ December 20, 2010
almost worthless. if not for some inspired moments in the 55 minute jam (!) by Lour Reed and John Cale and the others, and if not for those handful of moments where Morrissey stops the camera on a person or instrument, it would be just a camera test. maybe it was just meant as that. maybe it would work best as something in the background projected on a wall, which is maybe the point(?) otherwise, it's really hard to take unless you're a die-hard Velvet fan or actually like EXTREME CLOSE-UPSS!! WWWAAAAAHHHH!!
January 24, 2008
jesus... it's Nico, not Nicco :-/
December 8, 2007
An hour long jam session of the Velvet Underground and Nico, with guest star, who I think is Nico's toddler!
It's a music video done, well, the way Andy Warhol would do it. Show the everything.
The wacky camera movements and lighting experiments interspersed keep the interest up, and it's always kind of amusing to watch Nico play a tambourine with a maraca.
(But, if you don't already like Andy Warhol, and even if you just like The Velvet Underground, then you might want to skip this movie)
November 11, 2007
Cinema doesn't get much more crude than this. Warhol's camera is amateurish with its terrible tilts and pans, but wisely just keeps on shooting as the Velvets do an hour-long jam, that I wish had been put on record. For that alone, this is an invaluable movie.
October 19, 2007
The Velvet Underground...is just simply the best.
½ September 9, 2007
It's the Velvets jamming on one chord for the best part of an hour, with Nico joining in on tambourine and bass strings rubbed with a screwdriver (I wonder if Sonic Youth ever saw it?) while watching over her son Ari. The rehearsal is broken up when the cops arrive to investigate a noise complaint, after which there's about 15 minutes of inaudible conversation, with Andy Warhol and a few other Factory acolytes visible (it's actually closer to an hour and five minutes than the running time given here).
If you're a massive Velvets/Warhol fan it's essential as a rare capture of them on film, otherwise you will hate it. The camerawork in particular, full of multiple crash zooms (designed to be projected behind the band at their shows), is potentially very irritating.
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