Lou Reed’s Berlin

January 01, 1970

(Genius Products, 81 minutes)




If you were to compare the number of people now who say they loved Lou Reed’s
harrowing 1973 recording Berlin with
the amount of people who loved it upon
(and please, let’s not discuss sales),
you’d find a true discrepancy. Save me and Lester Bangs, I can hardly remember
Reed’s tale – of degradation, tedium, drug lust, depression, prostitution, and
a junkie-couple torn asunder by all-the-above – winning many fans. Heck, at the
time I can almost remember its producer Bob Ezrin saying something about not
being able to crawl out from the weight of Reed’s crushed velvet nightmare.


Apparently, painter/sculptor/director Julian Schnabel was a
friend and fan – not just of Reed, but of the brittle sad Berlin.
The man who lensed Basquiat and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has
turned Reed’s richly orchestrated hamstrung musical novella into a live, slightly
rawer epic filled with a seven-piece orchestra, Reed’s original Berlin co-guitarist Steve Hunter, old
band mates Fernando Saunders and Rob Wassermann, and newer friends Antony
Hegarty and Sharon Jones. (“I felt it to be the soundtrack to much of my life”
says Schnabel of the LP, by way of introducing Reed at the St.
Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn show.)


While Reed’s dry-ice croon brings necessary warmth to the
silken jazzy title ballad and the brooding cabaret of “Lady Day,” he’s
mawkishly neurotic (is that calmly so?) on the halting “How Do You Think it
Feels?” While Reed and his big band overplay their hand and roar altogether-too-mightily
on “Men of Good Fortune,” they all take it nice, spare and slow on “Caroline
Says II”; Reed’s words “Why is it that you beat me – it isn’t any fun” come down
like snow upon a whisper during his vocal run. It’s the ballads that benefit
most in this concert setting – tense takes on Reed’s brittle best that allow
Lou & Co. an opportunity at simmering opera banter. What could’ve been just
a very, very good concert film shot in deep browns, greys, ambers and reds is
run through with a fuzzily sun-splattered look-see at Caroline (played
blonde-ly and Nico-ishly by Emmanuelle Seigner) and her woozily doomed love
affair with Jim (who cares who’s playing him – stare at Emmanuelle).


But the star is Reed’s daring droll songs and the manner in
which he stares them down. Throughout Berlin‘s
tentative horror, Reed coolly essays this serial night-mare without blinking or
sinking into parody. He’s a cool customer who gets that these moments, once
ignored by even his deepest fans, are getting their due and he relishes their
import on his terms. Even if he’s added extra crunchiness to the Munch-iness,
they’re a perfect scream. And take note: when Matador releases Lou Reed’s Berlin: Original Film Soundtrack later this month, the Berlin album
in its entirety is followed by crucial versions of Reed classics – “Candy
Says,” “Rock Minuet” and sweetly guttural “Sweet Jane.”
Get shopping.


Special Features: Q&A with director Julian Schnabel A.D. AMOROSI



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