This 75-minute documentary, spanning Lou Reed's career through the late 1990s, was originally broadcast on public television as part of the American Masters series. It's a pretty straightforward mix of archival footage and contemporary interviews with Reed and many of his associates and admirers, though a bit looser than the usual American Masters approach. This project doesn't seem intent on digging up the dirt on Reed's perversities, sexuality, and mistreatment of wives and band members, as Victor Bockris' biography did. The emphasis is on the music (as it should be), starting all the way back to Reed's pre-Velvet Underground activities. The lack of decent live sound footage of the Velvet Underground to draw from is unfortunate, but there is some nice silent or non-musical footage of the band, plus plenty of interesting stills and comments from Reed and fellow Velvets John Cale and Maureen Tucker. The milieu of the Velvets is not ignored, with attention given to mentors such as writer Delmore Schwartz and artist-manager Andy Warhol. When the documentary reaches Reed's solo career, there are plenty more sound performance clips to employ. The focus of the solo years is pretty selective, as it has to be in a documentary of this length, yet it is not based on how popular certain records were. Transformer, Rock'n'Roll Animal, Songs for Drella, and New York get the expected coverage, but so do Berlin and Metal Machine Music. The late 1970s and most of the 1980s are hardly discussed at all, which might annoy fans of Street Hassle and Blue Mask, but really, if tough choices had to be made, the filmmakers made the correct decisions, for the most part. Among the many interviewees commenting are colleagues (David Bowie, Exploding Plastic Inevitable dancers Mary Waronov and Gerard Malanga, producers Bob Ezrin), critics, and musicians influenced by Reed (such as David Byrne, Patti Smith, Jim Carroll, and, more dubiously, Suzanne Vega). There is nothing about the severe artistic conflicts Reed has had with important coworkers like Cale and Robert Quine, or about his departure from the Velvet Underground in 1970. This is nonetheless good viewing for Reed fans, and informative documentation for Reed novices.
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