Lou Reed Concert Film Berlin Streaming Free Online for the Next Week

Last laughs can be sweet, and accord­ing to music jour­nal­ist, Antho­ny DeCur­tis, his friend, the late Lou Reed, “rev­eled” in the crit­i­cal drub­bing that greet­ed his 3rd solo album, 1973’s Berlin.

Not imme­di­ate­ly, how­ev­er.

Berlin, which fol­lowed hard on the heels of Reed’s wide­ly adored Trans­former, had a painful, pro­tract­ed deliv­ery.

This was due in part due to RCA execs get­ting cold feet about releas­ing Reed’s grim con­cept record as a dou­ble album. This neces­si­tat­ed a lot of prun­ing, a week before dead­line.

Pro­duc­er Bob Ezrin, who had plant­ed the idea for a con­cept album based on a track from Reed’s epony­mous first solo effort, was detox­ing in the hos­pi­tal, and thus not present for the final mas­ter­ing.

But much of the hell lead­ing to Berlin’s release was a hell of Reed’s own mak­ing.

His depen­dence on drugs and alco­hol ham­pered the writ­ing process, as per Reed’s first wife, Bet­tye Kro­n­stad, who filed for divorce mid­way through the process.

If you want a glimpse of what that marriage’s final days might have been like, look to Berlin.

Kro­n­stad was dis­tressed to find many pri­vate details from their rela­tion­ship on dis­play in the trag­ic rock opera. There was some fic­tion­al­iza­tion, but Reed also put his thumb on the scales when it suit­ed him, in songs like “The Kids,” which recast Kronstad’s late moth­er in a par­tic­u­lar­ly unfair way.

Reed once took a shot at the album’s crit­i­cal recep­tion, sug­gest­ing that peo­ple didn’t like it because its depic­tion of a mis­er­able cou­ple, whose union is marred by infi­deli­ty, domes­tic abuse, addic­tion, and sui­cide, was “too real”:

It’s not like a TV pro­gram where all the bad things that hap­pen to peo­ple are tol­er­a­ble. Life isn’t like that. And nei­ther is the album.

Some­times he bluffed:

I have nev­er been inter­est­ed in crit­i­cal recep­tions, decep­tions, hel­los, good­byes, huz­zahs, hur­rahs. I don’t read them, so I don’t care.

At oth­er times, he raged:

There are peo­ple I’ll nev­er for­give for the way they fucked me over with Berlin. The way that album was over­looked was the biggest dis­ap­point­ment I ever faced.

In a more vul­ner­a­ble mood, he admit­ted:

Berlin was a big flop and it made me very sad. The way that album was over­looked was prob­a­bly the biggest dis­ap­point­ment I ever faced. I pulled the blinds shut at that point, and they’ve remained closed.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, his ear­ly plans for stag­ing a the­atri­cal com­pan­ion piece to the album, with pos­si­ble par­tic­i­pa­tion by Andy Warhol, were shelved.

34 years lat­er…

Cue direc­tor Julian Schn­abelthe Brook­lyn Youth Cho­rus, and St. Ann’s Ware­house, the New York City venue that had pre­vi­ous­ly co-com­mis­sioned Songs for Drel­la, a musi­cal Warhol trib­ute by Reed and John Cale.

In 2006, Reed took cen­ter­stage in Brook­lyn for a 5‑night the­atri­cal run of Berlin that also fea­tured a 35-piece ensem­ble, orig­i­nal gui­tarist Steve Hunter, and dreamy videos by the director’s daugh­ter, Lola, star­ring Emmanuelle Seign­er as an abstract sketch of the doomed pro­tag­o­nist, Car­o­line.

The result­ing con­cert film, which St. Ann’s Ware­house is stream­ing for free through Novem­ber 29, proved far more pop­u­lar with crit­ics than the 1973 record had been. (Three years pri­or to the St Ann’s stag­ing, Rolling Stone upgrad­ed its orig­i­nal opin­ion of the album from career end­ing dis­as­ter to 344th Great­est Album of All Time.)

Stephen Holden’s glow­ing New York Times review of the film made mul­ti­ple men­tion of angels and demons, as is per­haps to be expect­ed when a work com­bines Lou Reed, a Sid and Nan­cy-ish romance, a children’s choir, and the ethe­re­al voice of Anohni, late of Antony and the John­sons.

Read­ers, see for your­self, and let us know—did RCA’s pro­mo­tion­al poster for the orig­i­nal album get some­thing right near­ly 50 years ago? Is this “a film for the ears?”

Lis­ten to the orig­i­nal 1973 album and the live con­cert ver­sion at St. Ann’s for free on Spo­ti­fy.

Stream Julian Schnabel’s Lou Reed’s Berlin, Live at St. Ann’s Ware­house here through Novem­ber 29.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Lou Reed Sings “Sweet Jane” Live, Julian Schn­abel Films It (2006)

Lou Reed’s Mix­tape for Andy Warhol Dis­cov­ered by Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty Pro­fes­sor: Fea­tures 12 Pre­vi­ous­ly Unre­leased Songs

Lou Reed Cre­ates a List of the 10 Best Records of All Time

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (6)
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  • Margo says:

    I love Open Cul­ture. But why is it always so hard to find an actu­al link to the works about which you’re post­ing? It’s mad­den­ing.

  • NYCPaul says:

    Lou Reed’s cen­tral prob­lem, out­side of his ego­ma­nia, is that he was very often full of shit.

  • Ally says:

    The link is there, albeit in small type but the web­site says the page can’t be found.

  • OC says:

    There are two links to the film in the post. And they both go to this page, which seems to work just fine:



  • Debra says:

    Wow, thanks for that!
    I was hav­ing trou­ble find­ing it too.
    ❤️ 🎶

  • Mr K says:

    On June 23rd 2003, Lou Reed record­ed the won­der­ful­ly deep, sub­tle and med­i­ta­tive album Ani­mal Ser­e­nade live at the Wiltern The­atre in Los Ange­les (released 9 month lat­er) which already includ­ed the songs Men Of Good For­tune, How Do You Think It Feels and The Bed from Berlin.
    And which also — at least again at its realse — fell through with many crit­ics, them stat­ing, why does­n’t he do some­thing like Per­fect Night: Live in Lon­don. Or rather: Why does­n’t he do that same thing again.

    I nev­er under­stood the harsh crit­i­cisms since me per­son­al­ly, I pre­ferred the reduced arrange­ments and the much more intime charak­ters of the songs — and at that of all Ani­mal songs — to the too bom­bas­tic album ver­sions.
    In so far, Ani­mal Ser­e­nade also proved to me that Lou Reed was at one of his cli­max­es of his life then.
    Love you.

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