Berlin (Lou Reed's) (2007)

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Released 3-Dec-2008

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 80:00 (Case: 85)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Julian Schnabel
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Lou Reed
Fernando Saunders
Sharon Jones
Antony Hegarty
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Lou Reed


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Sweet Jane in closing credits

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    In the liner notes for the 1998 re-release of the album Berlin writer Michael Hill posits a theory that in 1973, the year of its original release, the World just wasn't ready for the unremittingly bleak experience of Lou Reed's masterwork. Certainly upon its release the critics and public were confounded. Just a year after Transformer, a glam hit, Reed emerged from the studio with a series of dark ballads, a concept album no less, that charted the rapid fall of it's subject, Caroline, from party girl to rock'n'roll suicide. Rolling Stone, who had boldly declared the future release to be the "70's Sergeant Pepper " printed a vitriolic review with the critic declaring a desire to take "some kind of physical vengeance" on Reed. The only excuse for the record, opined the critic, was that it represented "his last shot at a once promising career". Ouch!

Within a year the heat had died down and the record came to be appreciated as a minor masterpiece. Still, Reed had to shelve plans to tour the album as a performance. His chance came 33 years later when Reed performed the album in full and in track order at Santa Anne's Warehouse in Brooklyn. Over 6 nights Reed revisited the work and filmmaker Julian Schnabel was there to capture the experience. Most would know Schnabel from his films Basquiat, Before Night Falls and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Schnabel is a noted artist in his own right and has been a long time fan of Reed. Somewhat scarily, in the opening of the concert film, he calls Berlin the "soundtrack of his life"!

Berlin is the story of Caroline and her lover. At the opening of the work, set in Berlin, we are introduced to the party girl high on the attention. She can't stand the quiet after the attention has died down (Lady Day) and drifts into drug abuse (Oh Jim) , spousal abuse (Caroline Says 2), removal of her children by authorities ( Kids) and suicide ( The Bed). The music is mostly quiet and the tone downbeat. As was usual with the Lou Reed of the 70's a good deal of the material had previously been performed, in some form of another, by his band The Velvet Underground.

Surprisingly, to revisit the album over 15 years since I last played it is to find a wealth of melody amongst the wrist-cutting love songs. Perhaps Hill was right. The fact that Nick Cave, Metallica, any emo band and others bite at the mainstream brings this album into a more commercial and acceptable light. For my money it follows the 70's "curse" which is a series of first side melodic sparkles before the second side drag-out (Low, Heroes, even 70's-like albums Ritual de la Habitual).

The stage set for the show was also designed by Schnabel . It represents the green walled hotel from Lady Day. Throughout images are thrown onto the back wall from a short film by Lola Schnabel and Alejandro Garmendia. French actress Emanuelle Seignier plays Caroline in the silent film

In a surprising omission the track listing can only be found by selecting the "scenes" menu. It is not on the back or the inside of the case. The listing is:

  1. Introduction.
  2. Berlin
  3. Lady Day
  4. Men of Good Fortune
  5. Caroline Says I
  6. How Do You Think it Feels
  7. Caroline Says II
  8. The Kids
  9. The Bed
  10. Sad Song
  11. Encore

The encore consists of three songs Candy Says ( a beautiful duet with Antony of Antony & the Johnsons), Rock Minuet and a reclamation of Sweet Jane playing over the credits.

Berlin is an essential viewing experience for Reed fans. Whether it is the best representation of the album is less certain. Bespectacled Reed is no longer the young man stumbling through the hazy world of the album. His voice is one of looking back in as much sorrow as anger at those days. The band is tight and has guitarist and all round legend Steve Hunter from the original release. There is small orchestral ensemble on hand to emulate the album's broad scope and a choir to give weight to Sad Songs (which is also introduced as an opener). The songs are stretched out just a little too much for this live performance but there are some really moving moments such as the rendition of Caroline Says II and Kids. What is pleasing is to finally see the album getting the airing it deserves and Reed clearly relishing the opportunity to unload the piece in the way he had always imagined.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

   Berlin was shot on high definition digital video at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio which has been preserved for this DVD release.

It was shot by Ellen Kuras nominated for a 2009 Oscar as director for her documentary The Betrayal. The film is 16x9 enhanced.

Is this a good looking DVD? It depends upon your perspective. Berlin was shot as a live event with an audience in a darkened warehouse. The lighting was minimalistic in keeping with the mood of the piece. The backdrop of green walls and regular video images cast a murky greenish pall over everything not submerged in inky blackness. In short, this is a nightmare for a digital video photographer. The result is high on atmosphere but also riddled with low level digital noise. Flesh tones vary according to the lighting wash and there are no actual technical problems with the transfer - aliasing, which often plagues concert videos, is absent here.

In short, this is a filmed concert experience and not a clean and clinical "live" show.

The film sits on a single sided DVD, however, at only 80 odd minutes in length compression is no big issue.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

   The all important sound for Berlin is Dolby Digital 5.1 running at 448Kb/s. There is also a Dolby Digital 2.0 track running at 224Kb/s.

Given that the film is on a single sided DVD it is understandable that there is no DTS track included. I note that the film has been released in Region A on Blu-ray. I had a look at the comments of two reviewers on the difference between the standard 5.1 track and the DTS Master Audio track on the Blu-ray and the upshot - not much difference at all!

The singing is in perfect audio sync.

As it is the sound is good but not spectacular. In truth it sounds very much like a live concert and not a crisp, clinical soundscape. The surrounds are really just used for ambience and Berlin was one of Reed's quieter albums, recalling the Velvet Underground, and as such the sub-woofer is engaged but rarely aggressive.

The sound quality is in keeping with the visuals which is to say realistic but hazy.

There are no technical problems with the soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

There are no extras on this DVD.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   This DVD is available in other regions. In region 1 there are some small extras being

and even the Blu-ray doesn't have much additional material. The CD of the concert is available separately.

Summary

    Berlin, the movie matches the album in its downward spiral. The concert film is a pretty good representation of the album and shows that Lou Reed is as engaging a performer now as in the early 70's. Accept the artistic design elements and you accept the transfer quality. A must for Reed fans but also any classic 70's music lover.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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