Docs That Rock

Lou Reed ist ein Berliner

In February at South by Southwest, I went to Lou Reed’s documentary Berlin with a great fondness for Reed’s music, especially his post-Velvet work. But I’m embarrassed to say that I had never heard a note of Berlin. I’m someone who tends to trust critics and when it was called one of the worst albums ever made in 1973, I felt I could avoid it. (Plus, I had tried Metal Machine Music and since that is basically unlistenable, I knew Reed’s extreme experimentation could be oft putting.)

Berlin bombed in part because of its dark subject matter. The concept album discusses a failing marriage between some depraved junkies. In 2008, such storylines are common so its weird that in 73 (post Walk on the Wild Side) the public viscerally reacted against it. Twenty-five year later, Reed decided to play the whole album live at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn over a few nights, filmed by Julian Schnabel. The doc is mostly all performance, though a thematic sparse film plays behind Reed and his band and is intercut into the film.

Usually, I’m partial to plot and narrative when it comes to music docs but the concert blew me away. For days following, I was obsessed with the songs and the backstory of the album, reading everything I could about it online. The concert features an all star chorus with a Brooklyn Children’s Choir, Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons), Sharon Jones and their participation along with the musicians augment and give rich backing to Berlin’s original fidelity. I’m hoping a CD of the concert will be released when the DVD hits the home market in September. I can’t summarize it any better than Camille Dodero of the Village Voice so I’ll quote from her review below and include a clip. Berlin opened in select theaters nationwide this past weekend. Highly recommended:

Lou Reed’s Berlin is one of those rare live-performance documents that truly benefits from proper cinematic context. Reed’s 1973 Berlin, the 10-song tragedy of two junkie lovers, was criminally under-appreciated at the time of its release—turns out it’s nothing short of a masterpiece. Whoops. And until a five-day stretch at St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2006, famously grumpy Lou had never performed the record live in full. Fellow 800-pound-gorilla Julian Schnabel showed up with sets, cameras, and ethereal druggy-people projections—pseudo-narrative scenes that end up delicately interspersed within the final cut. The result is a dreamy sepia-toned tableau of existential desolation and art-house incandescence. You weren’t there, but you didn’t need to be: Lou Reed’s Berlin doesn’t simply regurgitate a moment, it rewrites cultural history.


July 18, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. […] had to stop by Warren’s review to see what he thought before writing my own post, and I see he had the exact opposite experience. […]

    Pingback by Lou Reed’s Berlin | doc it out | September 29, 2008 | Reply

  2. […] music he wrote for a DVD a few years back. The rerelease and recelebration of his 1973 album Berlin as a documentary. His photography. And now, Reed is directing his own documentary about his elderly […]

    Pingback by Lou Reed, Documentarian « Docs That Rock | April 1, 2010 | Reply

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