I went to see Lou Reed (and Julian Schnabel's) Berlin last Tuesday. It gets a thumbs-up from me. But not for the shitty "in-the-moment" hand-held camerawork. Not for the moody lighting of the stage Reed & co. played on. Not for the inane films of the "Caroline" character interspersed between the songs, half of which didn't even correspond to the music behind them. Not for the 60(,000) musicians and underage choral singers backing up Lou onstage. Not even for Reed's core band, who were quite good (including Fernando Saunders on bass and Steve Hunter on guitar).
No, as usual, despite the massive pretensions that frequently surround Reed and his work, his own performance and songwriting shined through, and carried Berlin far away from being a nostalgia-trip, an exercise in futility, an overblown maudlin nightmare media-extravaganza, etc. and into an emotionally resonant and entertaining film worth watching. Most of the success or failure of a Lou Reed project depends on whether he's bringing his A-game to the table or not. Berlin is one of those where Lou gives 110% . I felt moved, amused, exhilarated, etc, and this is mainly from watching close-ups of him singing. Real tears are in his eyes during "Caroline Says II" and "The Bed." His guitar-faces are inimitable. His joy at performing is unmistakable. Indeed, it's Lou's passion that carries Berlin - which in the first place is a bit of a frustrating mongrel document: "Sad Song" and "Men of Good Fortune" were both VU songs, "Berlin" appeared on Lou Reed, "Caroline Says I" repeats the melody and rhythm of Transformer's "Make Up," and "Caroline Says II" is the VU's "Stephanie Says" with new lyrics. But somehow, with a little love, with unmistakable passion (which is admittedly rare for this artist, who prefers to shield himself in time-hardened cynicism) and with a believable and intelligible enough story line, this is translated into a conceptually cohesive work - a moving one, even. (This is true for the 1973 album, as well, which is also fantastic).
As a side note, I think it might be best if people tried to see the sense of humor in Lou Reed songs sometimes - for instance, I found myself one of the two people in the theater laughing at encore number "Rock Minuet"'s line "The two whores sucked his nipples, then he came on their feet" - sung, typically, in his trademark east coast drawl. Christ, even stoney-faced Lou must have had a little chuckle coming up with that one!
But so it goes - Lou Reed remains the most misinterpreted, misunderstood, internationally-recognized genius songwriter on earth. (Often he is the biggest culprit in this enterprise.) Some things never change.
Indeed, some things never change....