Monday, February 16, 2015
Lou Reed-Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse
Directed by Julian Schnabel, Berlin: Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse is a concert film held during five nights in 2006 where Lou Reed performs his 1973 album in its entirety. The film features Reed performing his album in its entirety for the very first time as it is considered one of his finest work despite its harsh reception upon the album’s initial release. Joined by a live band that includes the album’s producer Bob Ezrin conducting an orchestra as well as Antony Hegarty and Sharon Jones singing backing vocals and an appearance by Emmanuelle Seigner in film clips shot by Lola Schnabel. The result is a wondrous and enchanting film from Julian Schnabel.
In 1973, Lou Reed released his third solo album Berlin which was considered a daring release for the artist for the man who was a founding member of the seminal 1960s underground art-rock band the Velvet Underground. Yet, the album was not well received critically upon its initial release as it also did poorly on a commercial level where audiences were expecting another Transformers that Reed did previously that spawned the hit Walk on the Wild Side. Over the years, the album would gain a reputation as one of Reed’s finest works as the concert film has him playing the album in its entirety for the very first time in a series of five concerts held in December of 2006 at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse. Augmented by longtime band members in drummer Tony “Thunder” Smith and bassist Fernando Saunders, Reed is also joined by guitarist Steve Hunter who played on the original album while that album’s producer Bob Ezrin serves as a conductor.
The film opens with an introduction by Julian Schnabel about how much the film means to him as he would introduce the show as it would feature these exotic super-8mm films in the background of stage where Emmanuelle Seigner plays the character of Caroline. Also performing with Reed and his band are keyboardist/pianist Rupert Christie, the Brooklyn Children’s Choir, a string quartet, a small brass section, and special backing vocals from Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons and Sharon King of Sharon King and the Dap-Kings. Schnabel and cinematographer Ellen Kuras would go for something that is intimate while getting very few perspective shots from the audience in favor of capturing the performance and what the album could unveil from a visual perspective through Lola Schnabel’s 8mm film footage.
With its use of close-ups and medium shots as well as a few wide shots, Schnabel maintains that intimacy into the performance where it’s not about anything that is wild or comical. Instead, Reed keeps things forward while it is clear that he’s glancing at his lyrics for some of the songs which isn’t a bad thing. At the same time, he lets some of the other musicians to shine in the performances as Schnabel uses a lot of close-ups for those moments along with stylish editing by Benjamin Flaherty who would do amazing work in using super-imposed dissolves for the 8mm footage in some of the songs that are performed. With the help of sound mixer John Harris and re-recording mixer Tony Valonte, Schnabel makes sure that things do sound great in terms of how powerful the songs are as the encore includes a duet between Reed and Hegarty for the Velvet Underground song Candy Says plus a couple of others in the encore such as Rock Minuet and another Velvet Underground song in Sweet Jane to close the show.
Berlin: Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse is an exquisitely rich and compelling concert film from Julian Schnabel that features a mesmerizing performance from the late Lou Reed. Fans of Reed will no doubt want to see this as well as get the chance to hear Berlin be performed in its entirety as it’s presented by a fan/friend who manages to make it more than just a concert film. In the end, Berlin: Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse is a remarkable film from Julian Schnabel.
Julian Schnabel Films: Basquiat - Before Night Falls - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Miral - At Eternity's Gate - The Auteur #43: Julian Schnabel
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