Lou Reed was a true artist throughout his life. Whether it was in his early doo-wop band or his empirical work with the Velvet Underground and beyond, Reed was always in the pursuit of authentic artistry.
The singer was a deft hand at songwriting, that’s there for all to see in his lyrics and masterful composition of some of the alternative music scene’s greatest hits. But he was also a touching writer and an equally talented filmmaker as seen in his 2010 film Red Shirley.
The short film, Reed’s directorial debut, was a documentary about his cousin, Shuamit Rabinowitz, taking place on the eve of her 100th birthday. Rabinowitz led a deeply textured life filled with the tragedy of two world wars, the refuge of Canada, and the kaleidoscopic events of living in New York for 50 years.
Reed naturally adds a soundtrack which turns this touching and personal conversation into a profound message of humanity. While Ralph Gibson, the man behind the lens, provides a sense of infinite mortality and memory with every shot. It’s a gorgeous piece of film, which is at once a vulnerable and bold.
At the centre of that juxtaposition is Rabinowitz herself. Reed’s cousin speaks of the various threads which weave through her life. The First World War which she lived through in Poland, only fleeing the European country for Canada during the Second World War as the fighting intensified. It wouldn’t take long for the allure of America would soon be too large a siren’s call to resist and she crossed the border illegally to make her way to New York.
Rabinowitz would work her fingers sore in the textile factories of the Big Apple while the city swelled and spilled it’s drink all around her. She adds further texture when she describes connecting with her long-lost sisters in Palestine and even taking part in the Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. to compound her vast life experience.
In 2011, the late Lou Reed, said that there was a “great impetus” to make Red Shirley as the information would soon be lost if he didn’t. With that said, Red Shirley acts as a portrait of the 20th century and see firsthand the havoc of humanity it wreaked across the face of a gentle and kind woman by the name of Shaumit Rabinowitz. It’s essential viewing.
Watch below Lou Reed’s 2010 documentary about his 100-year-old cousin Shaumit Rabinowitz, the brilliant Red Shirley