Lou Reed: Berlin
R1 - America - Genius Products
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (27th November 2008).
The Show

Putting together a concert video seems like a simple task at first glance; you simply record the concert as it happens, cameras all over the place and hope for the best. Unfortunately, this will typically only appear to the more dedicated fan base and not function as a truly engaging film in it’s own right. However the recent moves to attaching larger film directors to concert films, typically of older bands, makes for an interesting glance at how the concert film can be changed and shaken up a bit to bring in everyone with the music and some added imagery. In the case of “Berlin” (2007), this means putting together relatively new director Julian Schnabel with Lou Reed, songwriter and member of The Velvet Underground.

For this concert, Reed performs the entire 1973 album "Berlin" accompanied by a 30 piece backing band and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. More than simply staring at the performance, the concert is performed and inter-cut with clips of the images projected behind Reed, creating a bizarre and dreamlike concert experience mostly shot from the perspective of the crowd, even leaving the occasional front row head sticking up barely in the frame of the camera. After rounding out the album Reed closes with an encore of other songs of his not on "Berlin."

In all honesty and fairness to Reed, I’m not incredibly familiar with him or The Velvet Underground other than their appearances in film soundtracks (used particularly well by Wes Anderson), so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Seeing an album played live with a full choir and orchestra was interesting and Reed’s songs are great to listen too, especially with many of them (actually all that were originally on "Berlin") new to me. Reed is a mellowed and understanding performer, drawing most of his energy into the music for an engaging and relaxing experience to just take in.

Schnabel’s directing certainly livens up the concert from the simple view of setting up a handful of cameras surrounding a performer, giving the film a very hand-held feel as if he’s trying to immerse the viewer in the audience of the show. While this works for the most part, there are times where the crowd gets frustrating in terms of blocking shots of the stage or just popping up into the corners of shots, though this may be a fuller view of the concert experience. The choice of cutting in with the odd visuals projected at the concert makes the film visually move a lot better to the music, keeping it engaging even if you haven’t been drawn to Reed’s music in the past.

Overall, it’s hard to say how much Berlin achieved other than letting me know that Reed deserves the accolades surrounding him, the concert is interesting and fairly engaging, especially for my first listen to the "Berlin" album. Despite Schnabel’s interesting directing choices that help to make the film flow with Reed’s music, it’s still a concert video so fans of Reed will likely enjoy it far more than I could and the uninitiated may have more trouble getting in on the enjoyment.

Video

Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen the transfer keeps the video fairly rough and gritty, with some dense grain which adds a good feel to the concert performed in a warehouse in front of what appears to be a small audience. It’s consistently styled to the occasion and the music, maintaining the kind of texture that adds depth, though some of the camerawork leaves something to be desired.

Audio

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack on the disc is a great live recording, the music comes through crisply and clearly. Obviously it was well produced with the primary focus on the music, not echoing around the concert hall or popping, bringing it a step above the feel of some venue’s sound quality.
English and Spanish subtitles are also included.

Extras

The concert film comes equipped with two featurettes, a theatrical trailer and bonus trailers, discussed below:

First up for the featurettes is “An excerpt from “Spectacle: Elvis Costello with Lou Reed & Julian Schnabel”” which runs 4 minutes 57 seconds. This interview features some clever banter between Schnabel, Reed and Costello, discussing how the film was put together, how the two met and some general background on the film. There are some interesting points on Schnabel’s directing, though he seems fairly circular it’s interesting to listen to this trio talk about the concept of the album and the film itself.

“Berlin on Tour”, the second featurette, runs 6 minutes 23 seconds. Here there is some additional insight on Reed’s tour of the live "Berlin" performance, including behind the scenes efforts at different festivals abroad, all set to Reed’s guitar. An interesting look that could have done with some more interviews or insight about putting the whole event together, but a nice, short presentation of how the event was put together in different places.

The concert film's theatrical trailer runs 1 minute 26 seconds.

There is also a quartet of start-up bonus trailers for:

- “Control” runs 1 minute 36 seconds.
- “Peter Seeger: The Power of Song” runs 1 minute 29 seconds.
- “I’m Not There” runs 1 minute and 8 seconds.
- “Joy Division” runs 1 minute and 35 seconds.

Overall

The Show: B Video: B Audio: A Extras: C+ Overall: B

 


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