Films from the Underground
Andy Warhol + Lou Reed
Pera Film’s season finale Films from the Underground: Andy Warhol and Lou Reed explores Warhol as a film director, as well as his influence particularly in music from the late 1960s. The program, also a tribute to Lou Reed who recently passed away in 2013, embraces three monumental films by Warhol: The Chelsea Girls, Vinyl and The Velvet Underground: A Symphony of Sound.
Lou Reed, legendary rock musician and songwriter, passed away October 27 this past year in 2013. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Reed was born on March 2, 1942, in Brooklyn, New York. For more than 40-years, Reed was at the forefront of American avant-garde music, beginning with creation of the Velvet Underground in 1965, a band with artistic and political visions far beyond the popular music of the time. Gritty and realistic, the brutal honesty of Reed’s lyrics and sound made him a cultural icon of the disenfranchised throughout the ’60s and ’70s. In 1965, along with classically trained violinist and pianist John Cale, bass and guitar player Sterling Morrison, drummer Maureen Tucker, and singer Nico, Reed formed the Velvet Underground. They cast off the optimism and light-hearted quality of the popular music of the time and made their mark with songs like “Heroin” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” which engaged the harrowing urban realities they knew well. More than just an alternative to the prevailing ’60s culture of hippies and flower power, the Velvet Underground was a band with an artistic and political vision beyond the realms of popular music. Andy Warhol became the band's manager and designed the signature image, the artwork for the cover of their first album, The Velvet Underground and Nico.
Operating out of a silver-painted, and foil-draped studio nicknamed The Factory, located at 231 East 47th Street, Warhol embraced work in film and video. He made his first films with a newly purchased Bolex camera in 1963 and began experimenting with video as early as 1965. Chelsea Girls, co-directed by Warhol and Paul Morrissey, consists of twelve improvised vignettes featuring the druggy, draggy, seemingly morally bankrupt “superstars” who constituted Warhol’s entourage and inner circle. The film was shot in summer and fall of 1966 in the Hotel Chelsea, at Warhol’s “Factory” studio and in the apartment where the Velvet Underground lived on 3rd Street. Warhol presented Vinyl six years before Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange; he had paid $3,000 for the rights to Anthony Burgess’ novel. Ronald Tavel loosely adapted the story into this exploration of cultural incompatibility in which Factory regulars enact the rehabilitation of a young hoodlum by leather-clad S&M practitioners. “We’re sponsoring a new band,” announced Andy Warhol at the end of this 1966 documentary: “It’s called the Velvet Underground.” Brian Eno would much later call it the band that inspired every single one of its listeners to start bands of their own, but that same year, Warhol produced The Velvet Underground: A Symphony of Sound. The film shows the group, which features young but now much-discussed rock iconoclasts like John Cale, Lou Reed, and (on tambourine) the German singer Nico, performing a 67-minute instrumental improvisation. Shooting at his New York studio the Factory, Warhol and crew intended this not as a concert film but as a bit of entertainment to be screened before actual live Velvet Underground shows.