Julian Schnabel might have been the most annoying New York artist of the Eighties, but he has really blossomed as a movie director. Concert films don't usually show much visual style, but here Schnabel has worked out a distinctive look for the movie that is entrancing without ever being intrusive or flashy-for-the-sake-of-flashiness. Of course, it helps that he's got a great series of songs to film: the Berlin album is one of those rock masterpieces that has grown over time, and it's almost reassuring to know that it was trashed by critics when it came out, since Lou Reed is so clearly having the last laugh on them now. Reed, as it turns out, has become an even more compelling camera subject than when he was young and a little too pretty for his own good. Here, he looks both ravaged and utterly determined to give every song his absolute best. It's bracing to see an artist who has sometimes thrown his talent away for the sake of looking cool now grab hold of the best he's got with such energy and devotion. There's weariness in his face, but no defeat, and Berlin's relentlessly downbeat lyrics remind us that, at its best, great rock music has always had the ability to take our losses and pain and make something beautiful out of them, without sugar-coating them with sentimentality or fake uplift.
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