In a world where documentaries carry all the excitement, suspense and gripping thrills as the latest blockbuster, a new doco on the notoriously cool art-rock provocateurs The Velvet Underground fittingly blazes its own trail.
Like its subject, the doco can be frustratingly aloof. It's also frequently, willfully, opaque.
But its also immediately apparent that in crafting the film, which is streaming on Apple TV+, director Todd Haynes was taking his cues from both the band and their holistic patron, the pop-art maestro Andy Warhol, to fashion an art piece out of the documentary format.
Simply titled The Velvet Underground, Haynes rolls out the expected conglomerate of talking heads for comment. The few surviving band members, some hangers-on, family, friends, fans and the group's artistic peers all vividly recount their experiences in, with or around the band, while also talking about the changing times in which the group operated.
Unlike the band's transcendent, ferociously raw, defiantly original and hypnotic music there's nothing particularly groundbreaking going on there. It's all stock standard sort of stuff. Where things get clever is in the way Haynes assembles and presents it.
You can think of these interviews as the instruments of a band. Aside from the unusual appearance of the viola, The Velvet Underground themselves had nothing particularly fancy going on. They worked with plain old guitar, bass and drums. But from those stock standard components they crafted a sound that was, in the words of one uber-fan, "not only new, but radically different".
And that's what Haynes does here. Of course, most docos pride themselves on showing never-seen-before footage but because of the Velvet Underground's heavy involvement with Warhol and his omnipresent cameras - both film and photographic - Haynes had an embarrassment of riches to work with. Not just for what they contain but for how Warhol composed them.
There's grainy, technicolour concert film, carefully posed portraits, revealingly candid snaps and terrific footage of beautiful people fashionably draped over couches and rugs just hanging out at Warhol's art studio, famously dubbed The Factory.
Like the songs of the group's frontman and main songwriter Lou Reed, Haynes adheres to classically accepted structure, telling the band's story in a linear fashion. But the way he plays with these standard components is what makes The Velvet Underground such a compelling watch.
With its frequent split screens, far-out spiralling graphics, polka-dot explosions and mash-up of band clips with news footage and avant garde film from the time that all bubble and pulse to the thoroughly unique music of the group, the documentary often feels like an experimental art film itself. With any other band this approach could feel pretentious, here it feels entirely appropriate.
Haynes really captures the feel and thrilling vibe of the late 60s, New York art world from which the group emerged. That magical mingling of musicians, artists and glamorous nobodies all coming together to create a scene that would - eventually - change the course of popular music.
But what he doesn't do is dig particularly deep. For a band that zeroed in on the deviant, seedy and dependent side of sex, drugs and rock n' roll, those elements are all but glossed over.
Yes, the early ambiguity of Reed's sexuality as well as his heavy drug use are discussed, but only in passing. Similarly the huge falling out between grumpy pop-genius Reed and John Cale, the band's bassist/viola player and avant-garde creative force, that led to Cale being fired from the group after their rabid second album isn't explored, nor is its cause revealed other than to be waved away as either an ego battle, Reed's jealousy, or differing musical opinions.
That's even with the well-spoken and thoughtful Cale on hand to elaborate.
While Reed had a well-earned rep for being a prickly fellow, Mary Woronov, an actress and sometimes dancer with the band who hung out at The Factory, makes no bones about what an unpleasant chap Cale could be when he got his back up, so there's definitely more to the story than what Haynes presents.
Similarly, the departure of their iconic vocalist Nico, the German singer, model and actress who Warhol insisted join the band, is also relegated to a mere mention.
"She wandered into the situation," Cale says by way of explanation, "then she quietly wandered off."
Reed's firing of Warhol as their manager/artistic director doesn't fare much better.
This distance from the dirt is as frustrating as a sharp stab of squealing feedback piercing right through your ear. As is the bewildering decision to not reveal how any of the talking heads are connected to the group until the credits roll. It's a needless annoyance that makes it difficult to follow along.
While I would have appreciated more detail, The Velvet Underground nevertheless wonderfully captures the band's vibe, their artistic ambitions and the impact that these ultra-cool misfits in dark shades and black leather playing grimy, dangerous rock n' roll had. Not just on people but on the history of popular music.