10 Films, no particular order — No.1 “Berlin”

September 16, 2010

Lou Reed. Berlin (2007)

It’s quite rare for me to have much interest – let alone go on and on about – a concert film.

But here it is:

First:  few people who are not Lou Reed fans will be able to  enjoy Berlin. The fortunate ones can look forward to 85 minutes of magic.

The live performace of an album named “Berlin”, was filmed by Julian Schnabel (Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Before Night Falls). Ala Andy Warhol and Lou Reed’s Velvet Undergound days, Schabel projects a mostly abstract video feed on the set.

Lou is old now,  and he looks it. But it suits him so well that I actually can’t picture him as a young man anymore.

He’s wearing honest-looking, worn jeans, rusty red t-shirt, frameless spectacles… He told one interviewer that, in the past, he would have worn sunglasses, as something to hide behind.
His skin is deeply creased with a scattered network of wrinkles.

Don’t know the original (1974) album Berlin?

“Berlin” is a suite of songs which you can listen to as another Lou Reed album, and then be shaken when you listen to it carefully.

From the introduction written Julian Schnabel: Berlin is about “love’s dark sisters: jealousy, rage and loss”. That’s just about right.
Reminiscences fond and bitter, drugs used to the point of oblivion, domestic violence and a suicide.

It’s a stunning musical performance… elaborate without swamping the material. The core band (Lou Reed plus a guitar, bass and drums) plays its way through the entire suite.  Occasional texture is added – an occasionally explodes – from four horns and winds, three strings, extra guitars, a second bass, piano, two backup singers and a dozen members of the Brooklyn Youth Choir.

In his virtually deadpan way, you can tell he is having a great time… at least until they reach what would have been the second side of the original LP, when pain mounts too high.  With its concluding song (Sad Song) – you see the release of regret and relief.

AntonyThe first of three encores, is a startlingly beautiful, and lullabye-like. Antony (Antony Hegarty) emerges from his shadowed stool. Singing backup, his voice was quirky and effeminate… up front, it is angelic and ethereal. With lips curled oddly over his teeth, he sings most of Lou Reed’s tender, sad “Candy Says”: /…What do you think I would see, if I could walk away from me?../
As the last chord is played, and the crowd applauds, the sincerest of grins spreads across his face… loving pride shines from behind his spectacles.

With the next song, classically grim Lou Reed returns. Swooping, heavily distorted guitars alternate with spare, crystal clear chords beside Lou’s voice. /“…They’ve tied someone up, and sewn up his eyes…”/

As is his odd beauty, Lou Reed’s voice is mostly monotone, painted with moments of melody… occasionally perfectly pure, sometimes grasping at the tune.

Berlin seems raw and lyrical, but honest.  It’s completely convincing as a confession… but (if you need to know) the entire thing is actually fiction.

As for the title and the setting of Berlin, Reed bluntly told the NYTimes: “I’d never been there. It’s just a metaphor. I like division.”

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