Femme Fatale: Lou Reed's "Red Shirley"

Lou Reed with cousin Shirley at screening of his film Red Shirley

"Here she comes, you better watch your step"  

Red Shirley, the 100 year old Chelsea girl activist,  cousin,  and subject of director Lou Reed's new film of the same name, was onstage with him for a unique post-screening Q&A at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center this past Friday Night. The former kingpin of the Velvet Underground turned filmmaker, came uptown as part of this year's Jewish Film Festival. 

"See the way she walks, here the way she talks"

Literally a "factory girl", Reed's cousin who worked for 47 years as a seamstress in New York City's garment district was called "Red Shirley" by her fellow workers for standing up to the bosses and the unions alike. This 40 minute documentary, a short and concise interview, was filmed by Lou Reed and the phenomenal photographer Ralph Gibson at cousin Shirley's Chelsea apartment. Shot on a Canon 5D Camera in both black & white and color, the film is really a joy to watch. 

 Shirley, Lou Reed, and Ralph Gibson at the post screening Q&A

As we listen to Reed coax Shirley to tell the story of how she left her small town and family in Eastern Europe behind - Reed lovingly forces her to pronounce the town's difficult name at least 3 times -  Gibson's camera glides around the apartment lyrically landing on artwork, photographs,  and artifacts collected over an extraordinary lifetime (we found out at the Q&A that the photographs were unearthed by Reed and Gibson from the bottom of a closet - "what's under those clothes? photographs!").  During the course of the film, Reed finds out for the first time that cousin Shirley played mandolin, and carried it with her two suitcases on the final trip from Montreal to America ("I didn't like it there. It wasn't cosmopolitan enough."). These are the kind of stories a scriptwriter couldn't make up. 

Ralph Gibson

These two seasoned artists seemed to have been left stunned while making this film, by this feisty activists' raw power. Asked during the Q&A whether she was a feminist, Shirley answered "no." A unionist? - "No." An activist - "Yes!" At Lincoln Center Friday, watching Lou Reed let Red Shirley take over the stage and the room with chutzpah, a wheelchair, and a microphone was a beautiful thing. 

Red Shirley

Where will you see this beautiful little film? Well you can marvel at a clip from it here, on Lou Reed's website.   

I'll be your mirror indeed. Bravo!