‘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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