‘Elvis’, the trailer, plus a film about music made by a grown up


What a joy to be able to see the world as Baz Luhrmann does, through the eyes of a 9 year old boy. Many 9 and 10 year olds note what plea­sure they get from eat­ing the icing on a cake. And they have the bril­liant idea of ask­ing for one made of noth­ing else. 

But they note their parent’s weary dis­missal of that idea, and they spend a few years inves­ti­gat­ing gas­tron­o­my, learn­ing about appetite and acquir­ing taste. And they come to appre­ci­ate that plea­sure with­out pain, light with­out dark­ness and euphor­ic highs with­out the depths of despair sim­ply can­not be. They are mutu­al­ly dependent.

The Vel­vet Under­ground, Nica and Andy Warhol

But Lurhmann has said, sod that. I’m stay­ing just as I am. And he’s spot­ted how much we all enjoy watch­ing music videos and movie trail­ers, and he’s had the bril­liant idea of mak­ing fea­ture length ver­sions of them. 

So we got Romeo + Juli­ette, which man­ages to defang Shakespeare’s play of its tragedy, and turn it into a pop­tas­tic cos­tume fest. Then there was Moulin Rouge, which was a 2 hour music video, pure and sim­ple. Like­wise The Great Gats­by

Which, I have to con­fess, I’ve not been able to actu­al­ly sit through. So it’s per­fect­ly pos­si­ble that it’s a care­ful­ly con­sid­ered and thought­ful med­i­ta­tion on doomed youth and fin de siè­cle dis­il­lu­sion­ment. But I’m going out on a limb, and pre­sum­ing that it’s just A N Oth­er 2 hour plus music video.

The Vel­vet Under­ground and Nico

And now we have 2 ¾ hour movie trail­er about Elvis. So, as with any trail­er, you get told imme­di­ate­ly who the good­ies and bad­dies are. And every line of dia­logue is on the nose and means exact­ly what it says – just like this sen­tence. And every frame is stuffed full of infor­ma­tion, because you’ve only got two min­utes to tell the audi­ence about all the dif­fer­ent ele­ments in your story. 

Only it doesn’t go on for two min­utes. This is kept up for near­ly three hours. There’s stuff stuffed into every frame and on every cor­ner of the sound­track. It’s like watch­ing a teenage boy who’s just been shown what all the but­tons do in his edit­ing soft­ware. And so pleased is he with all the effects they can pro­duce, that he can’t stop press­ing them, repeat­ed­ly. And he’s com­plete­ly obliv­i­ous to the reac­tion of his par­ents when he shows them what he’s done.

It’s relent­less in its blind bom­bard­ment of the sens­es, and the tedi­um that results is inces­sant and mind-numbing.

The Vel­vet Underground

I always admire though rarely warm to the films of Todd Haynes. But his epony­mous doc­u­men­tary on The Vel­vet Under­ground is an unqual­i­fied joy from start to fin­ish. Seri­ous music from an extra­or­di­nary col­lec­tive who came togeth­er at a fas­ci­nat­ing moment in time. 

Struc­tured in an appro­pri­ate­ly left of field way, it’s a qui­et­ly intel­li­gent and thought­ful film about a unique­ly influ­en­tial band. Their first album is one of the great works of art of the 20th cen­tu­ry. And remark­ably, this film does them justice. 

Watch­ing it after sit­ting through Elvis is like drop­ping your child off at a birth­day par­ty, only to be greet­ed there by the excit­ed stare of the birth­day boy, as he offers you a slice of his sol­id icing cake. When sud­den­ly, you’re tak­en by the elbow and gen­tly led out into the back gar­den, where you’re hand­ed an ice cold beer and a glass of Jame­son. And you sit down togeth­er and lean back to con­tem­plate the stars.

You can see the trail­er for The Vel­vet Under­ground below:

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Revealing Warhol Documentary on Sky Arts.

4172660325_d98f2b485f_zThere’s a very inter­est­ing the­sis at the heart of Ric Burns’ Andy Warhol: A Doc­u­men­tary Film, cur­rent­ly being shown on Sky Arts.

The gen­er­al con­sen­sus has always been that Warhol’s out­put can be divid­ed straight down the mid­dle, by Valerie Solanas’ attempt on his life in 1968.

There was all of that fre­net­ic yet incred­i­bly focused ener­gy that he put into an extra­or­di­nary vari­ety of work before. And then there was a long and pro­tract­ed decline as the shock of com­ing so near to los­ing his life shat­tered his con­fi­dence and sent him for­ev­er into a pre­ma­ture shell.

By the ear­ly 60s, the shy, asex­u­al worka­holic had estab­lished him­self as one of the most suc­cess­ful art direc­tors in east coast adver­tis­ing. When he then launched him­self as a full time artist his suc­cess was mete­oric. And between 1962–8 he was one of the key peo­ple respon­si­ble for trans­form­ing New York into the cen­tre of the world.

velvet_underground_a_pFirst came Pop art. The seeds of which, the film con­vinc­ing­ly argues, had been sown in him by the sight of the stained glass win­dows at his local church. His pious moth­er had tak­en her sick­ly child there every week­end and he’d gaze up at them for hours on end.

That was fol­lowed by the now famous and gen­uine­ly icon­ic silk-screen por­traits. The Marylins, Elvis­es and the Jack­ie Os. But there were also the avant garde films, the hap­pen­ings and the music. All of which cul­mi­nat­ed with the Vel­vet Under­ground and the four sem­i­nal albums they produced.

It seemed like the entire artis­tic uni­verse was cen­tred around Warhol’s whirl­wind and increas­ing­ly infa­mous Fac­to­ry on East 47th Street.

But, the film points out, Warhol had acquired his nick­name Drel­la for a rea­son. A com­bi­na­tion of Cin­derel­la and Drac­u­la, it clev­er­ly sug­gest­ed an ingénue who sits inno­cent­ly watch­ing. But one that’s secret­ly and silent­ly suck­ing all the blood from all who come into con­tact with him.

The drag queens, pimp, push­ers and assort­ed wannabes that Warhol was open­ly encour­ag­ing to gath­er there and hang out might have been fan­tas­tic fod­der for his art, music and film. But he was demon­stra­bly using them. And there were few of any of them pro­duc­ing any­thing of worth. The Vel­vets were the excep­tion not the rule.

Promis­ing so many lost souls the earth was always going to cost him, even­tu­al­ly. And when Soli­nas shot him for not car­ry­ing her with him up into the heav­ens, there was a sense of inevitabil­i­ty rather than sur­prise about it.

ufzetxepkmvbbig.jpg.pngRic Burns is the younger broth­er of Ken, and the pair made the sem­i­nal The Civ­il War in 1990, which was fol­lowed up by Jazz in 2001. They’ve carved out a rep­u­ta­tion for aus­tere if slight­ly con­ser­v­a­tive, old school doc­u­men­taries. And there’s noth­ing wrong with that. As this fine 4 hour plus film demonstrates.

And although it does sail dan­ger­ous­ly close to hagiog­ra­phy, as the NY Times sug­gests in its superb piece here, Andy Warhol: A Doc­u­men­tary Film nonethe­less makes a very con­vinc­ing case for its claim that he was the most impor­tant artist in the lat­ter half of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Keep your eye out for it.

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