Lou Reed: From rock icon to film-maker

Kaleem Aftab
Friday 19 November 2010 01:00 GMT

Most film-school students are in a rush to make their first movie – but not the former Velvet Underground front man Lou Reed. There has been a 50-year gap between the singer first entering Syracuse University to study journalism and film directing, and taking a seat in the director's chair.

His 28-minute film, Red Shirley, had its gala premiere at the Vienna Film Festival. Red Shirley is Lou Reed's 102-year-old cousin and the film, shot just before her 100th birthday, finds her recounting tales from her life in a series of interviews.

Shirley grew up in a small village in Eastern Europe and she was forced to flee Poland because of the Nazi threat. She moved to Montreal in 1938, armed with two suitcases and a few dollars. After finding the Canadian town too "provincial" for her taste, she ventured to New York, where she worked as a seamstress.

Reed says of his cousin, "She has been living in the same apartment for 46 years, which is about 18 blocks away from where I live. She is in a book about garment workers and the people who fought for the union. At the start of the movie the way she is speaking is almost like poetry: we suffered for this, we suffered for that, and it was like, 'Oh my God, that is a 100-year-old saying that and she deserves a statue, and then if not a statue, a movie'."

The movie has a certain charm because of the gregariousness of the central character, but it certainly doesn't leave one feeling that music's gain was the film world's loss as it flits from colour to black and white in the fashion of a green film-maker. Reed insisted that he would only talk about this film and not his music career – which was probably a good thing considering what he offered on the soundtrack, provided by his own band Metal Machine Trio, and the process of putting music to film: "There has to be music. There is a reason why silent movies went away. The world is always better with music; everything is better with music. Have you ever sat down and thought what is music? What is it? It's sound. Sound in rhythm or sound not in rhythm. It's sound."

It's unlikely that he'll make another film, he says. "I work on instinct and the idea behind all the things I do is to make something beautiful – and not too deep. If I did another, I'd make something on an electric car, or about Tai Chi, which I've been practising for around 25 years."

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in