Mike Atkinson

Lou Reed’s Berlin – a film by Julian Schnabel. (DVD)

Posted in DVD reviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on October 24, 2008

Riding a commercial and critical high in the wake of his classic Transformer album, Lou Reed alienated many newly acquired fans with its downbeat follow-up Berlin (1973). Said to be one of the most depressing records ever made, the album flopped in the States and was never performed live. In the UK, where we don’t let a healthy dollop of misery deter us, Berlin went Top Ten. To this day, it remains Reed’s second highest charting album.

In December 2006, Reed fulfilled his long-held ambition of performing a stage adaptation, complete with orchestra and children’s choir. This DVD was recorded at an early New York show, with Julian Schnabel directing the cinematography. Schnabel’s daughter Lola provides the atmospheric movie clips that weave in and out of the performance footage, illustrating the decline and fall of the story’s anti-heroine Caroline.

Reed’s second and final Berlin tour came to Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall in June. For those who attended that memorable, magical show, this DVD provides a useful musical souvenir. As in Nottingham, the album’s original guitarist Steve Hunter leads the band. (If Berlin was meant to be a downer, then no-one seems to have told the irrepressible Steve.)

Those who recall the many extended guitar jams between Lou and Steve at the June show will be either disappointed or relieved by their near total absence from the DVD. Indeed, the whole show is a markedly more sombre affair, the dimly lit stage bathed in tones of muted, sickly green. The album’s second half is a particularly harrowing parade of misfortune, punctuated by crying children and gloomy choral wails.

Things don’t even pick up for the encore. Antony Hegarty (of the Johnsons) adds a mournful guest vocal to Candy Says, leaving even the habitually impassive Reed looking visibly moved.

****

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