Lou Reed's Berlin
- Hamish Brown
- 17 July 2008
In 1973, Lou Reed was primed for a stellar pop career, following up the success of Transformer’s glam pop thrills with Berlin, an ambitious rock opera showcasing Reed’s versatile capabilities. But Berlin tanked, both critically and commercially, its weighty themes and epic musical arrangements a seemingly inappropriate move given his prior material. Reed took the huff, and it marked the moment he lost interest in popstardom and embraced the notion of being an artist, and a marginal one at that.
Then a strange thing happened. By silent acquiescence, Berlin became acknowledged as Reed’s best album. The stage show idea canned in 1973 was resurrected and performed in 2006 over five nights in Brooklyn, where it was filmed by artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). Top quality session musicians together with contributions from other NYC art-world luminaries including Antony Hegarty ensure the show/film’s production values are without question, whilst Schnabel’s set designs, which feature filmed footage of actress Emmanuelle Seigner as the tragic Caroline and are projected onto the backdrop of the beautifully gloomy stage, perform efficiently enough.
Ultimately, however, the film stands and falls on the quality of the music. Whilst the early 70s rock blueprint stompers frequently descend all to easily into indulgent guitar wig-outs, the closing suite of ‘Caroline Says II’, ‘The Kids’, ‘The Bed’ and ‘Sad Song’, some of the greatest songs in Reed’s catalogue, are pretty much perfect on both a musical and performance level.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 25 Jul