Tuesday, July 29, 2008


   Steve Hunter (left) performing Berlin with Lou Reed.

Lou Reed was in hilarious deadpan form last night during the Q&A following the 8:15 screening of Berlin at the Film Forum.

The man, getting on in years, clearly has mellowed—there is now actual doubt (in my mind, at least) as to whether or not he is being purposefully aloof or just fucking with us. He never once cracked a smile, but conversely never got too agitated, despite having good cause.

My third viewing of Berlin was as good as the first two; this is a movie I could watch endlessly. That being said, Julian Schnabel's "artistic" contributions (home movie-style footage of actors behaving in a fashion vaguely suggested by the songs) are clearly unnecessary—they simply do not advance the story or have any good reason to be included.

Which is THE POINT! Schnabel's touches are in there the way oblique words, images, oddball segues and miscellaneous obtrusive elements find their way into poems! One second you're bombing along, enjoying something resembling a narrative, and—kapow!—all of a sudden you're inside Weirdoville's city limits, where the only language spoken is Obtuse. Then, after a brief look at the main drag, you're back in the real world smiling at an amusing interlude.

I think I "get" it: Berlin, the film, is more of a poem than a concert movie or documentary.

So, ultimately no harm done, though I would LOVE it if an un-Schnabelized version were someday released. And a soundtrack! This film not only captures Berlin, the album, it totally resurrects it, pumping big, bad, overdriven guitar muscle into the affair, along with nicely nuanced accents and a sterling mix. This is the way Berlin always should have sounded.

The camera is rarely forgiving, particularly in close up, where Reed looks every one of his 60+ years (though, by contrast, like Keith Richards' son; to experience the quality opposite of Berlin, go see Shine A Light). The grainy film stock suits Reed and the subject matter perfectly, though the consistently frantic camera movement less so. Maybe the idea was to shoot the thing in Meth-o-Vision, as speed is mentioned in at least two different songs.

After the film and the obligatory "This man needs no introduction, but I'm going to give you one anyway" introduction, Lou Reed seemed to float to his place behind a lectern at the front of the theater (must be all those years of Tai Chi). As the moderator continued to wax rock 'n' roll historic, Reed slowly reached up and snapped off the reading lamp with a sinister air that would have made Bela Lugosi shit himself.

The questions were all selected in advance (audience members were instructed to pose their queries on index cards which were collected before the film), and weren't terribly inspired: How did you pick the musicians for this version of Berlin? How did cavorting with Andy Warhol's Factory crowd and drug use influence your work? Etc., etc.

Things got off to a rocky start when Reed's microphone didn't work, and all Hell threatened to break loose! The moderator, in my opinion, could have easily defused the situation by simply declaring: "For the love of GOD, somebody do something! This is LOU REED!" Instead, the man floundered terribly and finally surrendered his own mic to Reed who indicated his appreciation with a monotone: "I can't believe this place doesn't have two working microphones."

All successive zingers, and there were far too many to count, were delivered in the same flat way, completely lacking affect, yet suggesting entire worlds. Curiously, snark didn't seem to be present—there was an odd playfulness to it all. It was as if Reed were channeling the spirit of a deft stand-up comedian, one who never, EVER, laughs at his own routines. Somewhere beneath the reptilian cool seemed to lurk a light-hearted "Eh, who cares?"

Either that, or he was really pissed.

My question wasn't chosen, and I'm sure many in the audience would have found it inane: "What was it like playing guitar with Steve Hunter after all these years?" Hunter participated in the Berlin album studio sessions, and was part of the subsequent touring band which recorded the legendary Rock n Roll Animal, a live document of said tour. (As faithful readers of this blog will note, it was Hunter's exquisite guitar solo between the first and second verses of Rock n Roll Animal's "Sweet Jane" that made me want to pick up the guitar.)

Hunter, however, was addressed by Reed without any prompting, indicating that perhaps I was on the Lou wavelength from word one: "I love Steve Hunter," he exclaimed and pointed out that Berlin was only Hunter's second album. I felt a quiet moment of musical vindication.

He twice responded to questions posed with: "I don't understand the question." Which brought up the whole "Oh, he's still a bastard!" point, which gave way to the "Is he senile?" concern, followed by the "Wait! He's still just fucking with us!"

There was never a moment when any of this became crystal clear, however. He never broke the fourth wall, so to speak, of being Lou Reed: cool, impenetrable, enigmatic.

So, it was perfect.

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Anonymous Chris Caratzas said...

This is why I always preferred Iggy Pop. The guy never took himself too seriously.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I guess you've never seen Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes.

Iggy Pop does take himself seriously; the problem is: no one else does.

11:17 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Great rundown of the evening and the film.

4:53 PM  

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