Lou Reed's Berlin

(USA, 2007, 85 mins, Blu-ray Disc)
Director:
CAST Lou Reed, Sharon Jones, Antony Hegarty, Emmanuelle Seigner

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The doomed love story of addicts Jim and Caroline, Berlin’s 10 songs cycle through the couple’s initial drug-euphoric enchantment, their violent betrayals, their fatal collapse. In 1973, it was largely considered a flop. Today, it looks more like a masterpiece.

"Reed had never performed Berlin live in full until 2006, with a landmark five-day stretch at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. Director/artist Julian Schnabel brought cameras to commit the performance to celluloid; the record’s original producer, Bob Ezrin, was enlisted to oversee. Redemption all around.

The result is Lou Reed’s Berlin, a concert film by technicality, a cinematic trance in practicality. True to its source material, this is a mood piece. From the noisy cabaret confusion of wistful opener "Berlin" to the affecting coda "Sad Song," we are adrift in a live Lou Reed performance that Schnabel has captured in grainy-film reverie, all flickering silhouettes, soft-focus flourishes, and dreamy sepia tones.

Onstage, the band stands before a backdrop that Schnabel made to evoke the residential hotel where Caroline lives in "Lady Day"—beneath a tawny-green pattern, Lou looks imprisoned by mildew fractals and water stains. Projections also flutter behind him, interpretive scenes shot by Schnabel’s daughter Lola that end up interspersed within the film’s final cut. This is where we meet Caroline, a carefree, grinning, drooly-mouthed blonde with bicep bruises and high eyes, played–or, more accurately, mimed—by French actress Emmanuelle Seigner…

Then there are the tremendous back-up singers, retro-soul queen Sharon Jones and Antony Hegarty, the androgynous canary. And as for that atmosphere, Schnabel somehow magically makes the subdued hues of St. Ann’s feel like a grand loft space." –Camille Dodoro, Village Voice