TNB Night Owl–Lou Reed’s Berlin

Maasdam Swiss cheese. Photo by Arz.

With everything shutting down due to the Covid virus and our kid at home with us 24-7, my movie watching habits have temporarily changed. I need to remember an eight year old can walk in the room at any time. For that reason, I picked a movie centering around the doomed relationship of two abusive drug addicts. How is this a good choice? It’s done as a rock concert for a concept album.

LOU REED’S BERLIN (2007) started with his 1973 concept album. It was written during a tumultuous relationship with his then-wife, Bettye Kronstad. There was drug use, physical and mental abuse, and a history of childhood neglect. Reed took this all and brought it to his album which told the story of Caroline and Jim, two addicts weaving in between love and detachment with each other. She is a part time prostitute, he occasionally beats her. Neither are particularly sympathetic and the tragic ending is completely predictable. So what makes it so compelling? Reed’s music. He can write some poetic lyrics and craft beautiful sounds. At the time of its release the critics trashed the album, unable to get past the morbid content. Reed’s plans for a grand production were abandoned and the album was never performed in its entirety live again…

…until 2006. For five days in Saint Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, Reed performed the album with his band, a choir, and an orchestra. With three decades of life and performance experience behind him, and other amazing musicians beside him, Reed has never sounded better. Director Julian Schnabel crafted a perfect balance of performance footage and short film sequences of Caroline and Jim directed by his daughter Lola. There is just enough of their story shown to bring it to life for the viewers, but not so much that we grow weary of their self-inflicted misery. Plus, it’s Lou Reed, which I always enjoy.

Here it is, for your musical enjoyment:

Question of the night: what concept album should be turned into a movie?

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