On paper, and in general, “Lou Reed’s Berlin” is a can’t-miss. If you’re a fan of Lou Reed’s music, particularly “Berlin,” you’re going to see this film and, as said music is performed competently, you’re likely not going to have many complaints.
“Lou Reed’s Berlin” is just that: Lou Reed performing, on stage, his album “Berlin.” Dubbed by many as one of most depressing albums of all time (and in my book, the clear winner of said “honor”), “Berlin” is definitely an audio experience that deserves the “from beginning to end” concert performance (because, out of context, while certain songs are catchy… well, they are works of art because of the context, simply). And for those that were unable to catch Reed when he was performing the album over five nights at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, New York in 2006, this is the only way you may ever experience the live effect.
And it is a live experience that is… cheerful. Well, maybe not cheerful, but definitely more upbeat and toe-tapping on stage than it is when you’re hunkered down in your apartment listening through the headphones while crying into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. The music, with full live orchestration and chorus, is reborn in this film, and if you were on the fence (though I doubt any Lou Reed fans were on the fence) then you need to see the film, specifically in a theater, for the full audio revelation.
Visually, the film is a mess, however. Whether it be the annoyingly on-the-nose soap opera-style music video sequences, or the inability of any shot to stay in focus for longer than, say, 5 seconds, while the music is enough to keep you in the theater, the visuals are enough to make you sick while you’re there. Again, however, the music takes great advantage of that surround sound theatrical element, and as such deserves to be experienced in that arena, but I am warning you that the film looks like a piece of s**t.
Which is upsetting, because we all know that was an aesthetic choice on director Julian Schnabel’s part, lest we are to believe that accomplished cinematographer Ellen Kuras just so happened to forget how to shoot. I understand that it’s a hard task to take, putting something visual in with Reed’s musical brilliance and maybe that’s why things are so ugly and muddy; there’s nothing one can do, so why do much of anything. At the same time, if that’s the way to go, I just wish that Schnabel would’ve shot the shows straight-up for what they were instead of going all blurry-distractions on us.
Again, if you love Lou Reed or even like Lou Reed a little, musically this film is worth your time and, unless you’ve got an amazing audio system at home, it should be experienced in a theatrical setting. Just keep your eyes shut (Marian!) and you’ll be ok.