Director Todd Haynes has said his documentary about The Velvet Underground would be “a different film” if Lou Reed were still alive.
The filmmaker, whose previous movies include Carol, Far From Heaven and Bob Dylan film I’m Not There, makes his documentary debut with the movie about the band best known for songs such as Sunday Morning, There She Goes Again, Venus In Furs and Heroin.
Haynes sifted through hours of archival material of the American rock band, including images shot by Andy Warhol, to detail their artistic inspiration, experimentation and sound.
Their admirers and contemporaries, as well as members including John Cale and drummer Moe Tucker, are featured in talking-head interviews, but singer-songwriter Reed, who died in 2013, is a notable absence.
Haynes told the PA news agency: “It was a structuring absence of the film and it was the constant discussion that I would be having with my editor.
“It was the motivating factor for how we went through audio and tape archives of Lou’s interviews, and it would have been a different film if he was here.
“I don’t know how different a film and I don’t know what it would have been like to interview him, but I would have loved to interview him.
“Maybe because I had such great experiences with Moe and with John, (I hope) that he could have felt like this was meaningful, and it was a filmmaker who wanted to make it and wanted to really listen to him and really hear him.
“He had a lot of defences. I heard tapes of Lou talking with Danny Fields, who was a dear friend of his, who is in the film, and you hear a very different Lou than you’d hear in interviews with journalists, just somebody so exuberantly smart, and sharp, and witty, and, and infectious and lovely, and it made me just love him and see him again, as the artist that we all know he is from his work.”
He added: “In a weird way, Lou’s not being in the film keeps a desire for Lou alive, that is maybe a good thing that you crave him, that you kind of want to go where he isn’t.
“So maybe just even in that those little bits of displacement, and absence is where we kind of find a way of travelling and continuing to imagine the world, in the way we want.”
Describing how he pieced together the documentary, Haynes said: “I think I just wanted to try to put them in their time and place and use this extraordinary collection of images and films that were being made right around them, that they were so ornately connected to the making of, the seeing of, the performing in and appearing in and to let that be the way people see the music.
“These are films that people don’t know that well, so it was the it felt like it had a chance to kind of make you stand up and see something different, even if you know the music.”
The Velvet Underground is out now on Apple TV+.