by chris mills
“And I said, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, what a feeling…”
Friends (and enemies, too, who knows who’s reading?), I feel remiss, already on my very first guest blogger day, that I did not provide you with Berlin’s possibility until the last day it was playing. It was worth the trip and also provided, to return to the ‘live or memorex’ thread, the one feeling that good documentation of live events almost always evokes in me: regret. Regret that I wasn’t there watching the high-wire, the real McCoy, the goods get made, y’know? When you’re all there in the room. Rehearsal is one thing, but this moment, the moment when audience meets stage picture, and everyone’s breathing the same damn air…well, that’s somethin’ else.
The joy available for rent at Film Forum today brought that home viscerally. Because it was not the lyrics for, though I love me some Reed, it is not always dramaturgical drive that draws one to the Lou. There were, of course, the guitars—o man, meaty tones and long, dirty, muscled grindings of layering sound. There was the thrumming undercurrent of Tony Thunder Smith, drumming us into the sound and holding us hostage—whether through joyous pounding or, especially in one instance, with a tinkling high hat to set a pace for Reed to lyrically bounce around in. And there was the delectable Schnabelian (o yeah) stage design and cinematic labor that filled the screen with layers of abstracted and impressionistic imagery. Faces and seashores and birds on the wing that underwrote and/or sometimes undercut the actual stage picture—a mise en scene of 15 aging makers together and in sync. All of these aspects were swingingly in place.
But, gentles, it was more. Because the film offered the full throttle (if mediated) experience of a large group of people at the top of their game, and in love with what they were, at that very moment, making together. It sang. Those players played through a kind of terrible, raging joy that felt like art. Or like life when lived well. And Reed, at the center, was director and lead, patriarch and ingénue, lover and beloved. His tiny head movements and finger flicks read like novels to the folks on stage and they followed him like colts. Not since I saw George Clinton—when P-Funk were at their glorious height (with Bootsie Collins on stage in full bridal regalia, only to strip down, by show’s end to a gleaming man diaper) and there were at least 20 musicians on stage following the minute movements of Clinton’s shoulder rolls, winks and guitar tics—have I seen one performer so confident and in control of the stage and its nuances. And yet, he’s also thrilled to watch.
The amazing Antony, of “and the Johnsons” fame, sings the first encore number, “Candy Says” (as part of a slightly predictable, yet still dazzling, trio that also included “Rock Minuet” and “Sweet Jane”), and Reed watches his inimitable style. Antony’s face wheels through expressions while his hands buttterfly the air, discomfort and delight at battle and he seems a fleshly cherub to Reed’s rail stiff, almost expressionless, Marlboro man. But Reed has some expression up his sleeve. As the song ends, Schnabel closes in on his face as he looks to Antony—to check in, “are we done?”—and a look of pure admiration crosses his countenance like light. Antony’s performance has clearly moved him and it’s a dark heart that isn’t moved by the raw delivery of emotion. We see Reed see Antony and the vision is lovely.
So when you dance hard, slow dancing
when you dance hard, slow dancing
When you dance hard, slow dancing
when you dance to the rock minuet.
So, look for the film, and be filled with regret.
And on Friday, I promise, there will be some theater to discuss!