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In Berlin, by the wall, you were 5′ 10″ tall

Towards the end of a rambling introduction to the North American premiere of his film late Tuesday night, director Julian Schnabel said he wanted to introduce his friend Lou. “Lou, stand up.”

Lou Fucking Reed. In the audience. Now, there was something I’d not counted on! In fact, just a few minutes earlier, I had been pondering the idea… and had decided that hell would likely freeze over before Lou Reed would sit in a movie theatre audience and watch himself perform onstage onscreen. Shows you what I know, eh?

Let me admit right up front that Berlin has never been one of my favourite Lou Reed albums. I know, I know… that makes me a heathen. I agree. But, damn, it’s just so full of anger and sadness and loss… and drugs… and violence… and death. And, (again) honestly, I have just never really been into “concept” albums. They strike me as hopelessly cornball.

Nevertheless, I must say I loved the experience of watching this album being performed onstage in this film. It really turned me upside down in my opinion of the record. The arrangements were lush, the musicians looked like they were really enjoying themselves (even Lou cracked a smile or two!), the set (designed by Schnabel, himself) was dreamy and mysterious, and he used snippets of what were meant to feel like home movies of “Caroline”–shot by his daughter, Lola. And I’d never heard of this guy before, but backing vocalist Antony has an incredible voice and does a fabulous job on one of the encores in duet with Lou. I just wish the performance were longer–I’d’ve happily sat there for another coupla hours.

I’m told by a friend who saw it that Schabel’s other film at TIFF07, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (for which he was awarded the Best Director award at Cannes earlier this year), is quite brilliant.

→ originally published 2007-09-13

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