Watch Red Shirley, Lou Reed’s Short Documentary on His Fascinating 100-Year-Old Cousin (2010)

From fronting the Vel­vet Under­ground to putting out four sol­id sides of feed­back noise to col­lab­o­rat­ing with Metal­li­ca on a semi-spo­ken word album based on the plays of Frank Wedekind, the late avant-rock­er Lou Reed had a way of nev­er work­ing on quite what you’d expect him to. Eas­i­er said than done, of course, but Reed man­aged to sus­tain a long, always-inter­est­ing career and posi­tion in the cul­ture by exer­cis­ing that strength not just in music but in oth­er forms as well. Above we have Red Shirley, a half-hour doc­u­men­tary film he made with Ralph Gib­son in 2010. (Score pro­vid­ed by “the Met­al Machine Trio”.) We get the premise up front, onscreen: “On the eve of her 100th birth­day, Lou sat down with his cousin Shirley for a tête-à-tête.” Most near­ly-100-year-olds have, pre­sum­ably, seen a lot; Shirley Novick has seen even more.

“Dur­ing World War I she emerged unscathed from Poland after her fam­i­ly’s house was hit by a dud shell,” writes the Wall Street Jour­nal’s Nico­las Rapold in an arti­cle that also includes Reeds own’s reflec­tions on his cousin and her thor­ough­ly his­tor­i­cal life. “At 19, she jour­neyed to Cana­da with­out her par­ents, thus escap­ing the fate of rel­a­tives dur­ing World War II. (‘Hitler took care of them,’ she curt­ly remarks in the film.)

Leav­ing Cana­da, which she deemed ‘too provin­cial,’ Ms. Novick joined thou­sands of immi­grants in New York City’s gar­ment indus­try. There, over the course of 47 years, her debate skills came in handy as an out­spo­ken activist dur­ing union scraps. She would lat­er join the 1963 civ­il rights march on Wash­ing­ton.” Snag­films tags Red Shirley with the apt label “fas­ci­nat­ing peo­ple,” but for a sol­id doc­u­men­tary, you also need a fas­ci­nat­ed inter­view­er, and Reed fills that role. “The only oth­er thing I would like to do is make a movie about mar­tial arts,” Reed told Rapold. “Like, trav­el around to dif­fer­ent teach­ers and tour­na­ments, com­pare tech­niques and train­ing.” That we’ll nev­er see it now fills me with regret.

The film should be view­able in most all geo­gra­phies, or so our Twit­ter fol­low­ers tell us. (Our apolo­gies if you’re not in one of them.) You can find Red Shirley per­ma­nent­ly housed in our col­lec­tion of 575 Free Movies Online.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Lou Reed — Vel­vet Under­ground Front­man, Influ­en­tial Solo Musi­cian — Dead at 71

Hear New­ly-Released Mate­r­i­al from the Lost Acetate Ver­sion of The Vel­vet Under­ground & Nico (1966)

Warhol’s Screen Tests: Lou Reed, Den­nis Hop­per, Nico, and More

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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  • louise says:

    There’s a guy who trav­els around com­par­ing teach­ers and tour­na­ments com­par­ing tech­niques and train­ing — not sure if he’s made a movie yet. He goes by the mon­ick­er The Brook­lyn Monk.

  • Denise K says:

    Thanks for shar­ing this. She remind­ed me of my Mex­i­can grand­ma who worked as a seam­stress (in LA’s gar­ment dis­trict) her whole life.

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