The documentary-essay film B-Movie: Lust and Sound in West-Berlin 1979-89 portrays a rapid journey through the walled-in island and takes the formal style of part assemblage (including original footage), seamlessly (or, seemingly) clever reconstructions/re-enactments with voice-over monologue, all edited in HD video with 5.1 surround sound. Told from the viewpoint of a Mancunian called Mark Reeder, who settled in Berlin late in 1978, the Manchester he left behind was a gloomy, grey decaying northern English industrial city that had begun to form its own musical niche in the aftermath of Punk Rock with appropriately gloomy or moody bands like Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and Durutti Column. Reeder was associated with the groups’ start-up label Factory Records and also listened to obscure German electronic music like Neu! and Can while working at Virgin Records store in central Manchester.
‘There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin…I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination of the city of West Berlin…Ich bin ein Berliner!’ ~ John F. Kennedy (Outside Rathaus Schöneberg, West Berlin, June 26, 1963)
Reeder’s move to Berlin was the result of his fascination with the city and its music. Lou Reed made an album called Berlin in 1973 without actually being there, while David Bowie and Iggy Pop made West Berlin their home in 1976 and recorded the masterpieces Low, Heroes, Lust for Life and The Idiot. Initially, Reeder would work as Factory Records unofficial record label representative (‘Our Man in Berlin’) then was subsequently a roadie, a bouncer, musician, manager, sound engineer, TV presenter, even actor in dubious quality underground films.
Early in the documentary, Reeder details just how much this bombed-out political enclave looked on his arrival. Little had changed since the aftermath and rubble of WW2. The Cold War was in disturbingly high resonance and West Berlin, in the middle of the GDR (Communist East Germany), was as isolated and dangerously close borderline place that one in the West could possibly be located. Still, this affable, happy-go-lucky Mancunian was not deterred. He found a cheap place to live in the Schöneberg district and was delighted by the amount of living space his ‘Altbau’ (old building) apartment offered for the rent he paid, with its high ceilings and big windows. What he also soon found out was that just below him in the street was constant noise, disturbances and riots.
Progressively, Reeder takes us on a journey through time from the beginning of the 1980s including the progressive assortment of places and characters in the Berlin counter culture that is immortalized today. In Schöneberg’s Nollendorfplatz neighborhood was the club venue The Loft, featuring alternative German and British acts. In Kreuzberg, on its long central street Oranienstrasse, was SO36, Berlin’s answer to New York’s CBGB’s, where punk and new wave acts would play. Even David Bowie paid a visit when it opened early in 1979 (and it is still going strong in 2015). Unique fringe characters at this time included Nick Cave, Blixa Bargeld of Einstürzende Neubauten (also the guitarist in Nick Cave’s bands) and the androgynous Gudrun Gut and Bettina Köster (who Reeder co-managed) of avant-garde band Malaria! Reeder also played in his own band, Die Unbekannten (later becoming Shark Vegas) and promoted shows for Die Toten Hosen. The then-unknown German singer Nena had just moved to Berlin forming her eponymous band.
The resonances that the music and cultural scene in West Berlin was creating prompted Reeder’s journalist friend Muriel Gray to bring a camera crew along and film for the UK’s Channel 4 TV music magazine program The Tube (1982-87), devoting a 90-minute special to the city in the autumn of 1983. The program depicts the tension and excitement in the city with the Wall and the nightlife, predominantly focusing on the Kreuzberg district. There are interviews with many of the aforementioned characters and also films inside the all-night Schöneberg bar Risiko where we are introduced to another friend of Reeder, the ‘real Christiane F.’, the teenage heroin addict and prostitute who was the subject of Uli Edel’s 1981 film Christiane F. – Wir Kinder Vom Bahnhof Zoo, depicting the lives of teenage prostitutes around West Berlin’s central Zoo Train Station in 1976-77. Reeder knew her because she released a few records under the name Sentimentale Jugend with her then-boyfriend, Alexander Hacke (of Einstürzende Neubauten) around this time.
Along with the stylised re-enactments, the footage of The Tube documentary forms something of an anchor point of this assemblage film that the other Super-8 and video edits are built up on, not least the presence of Reeder on-camera to authenticate him with a new audience. Director Heiko Lange changed the subject and direction of the film from re-assembled images of Berlin with musical soundtrack to the story of Berlin 1979-89 as seen through the eyes of Reeder after he gave the director a box of otherwise unseen films he had at home. Of the film’s final edit, Reeder recently claimed that it was culled from 70 different archives, so editing this footage into a 90-minute documentary undoubtedly involved tough decisions.
In the mid-80’s, while everything seemed to degenerate into the mainstream and with his own band ending, Reeder supported himself by running a bar and synchronising porn movies. However, he still found time to look out for the next big thing and he found it with Westbam and the formative phase of Techno, arguably pop music’s last great original genre. By 1989, the acid house scene was in full swing and Reeder would also unknowingly produce the first (and last) indie-rock album of the GDR when, that summer, he was officially offered to produce an album in East Berlin for emerging East German indie band Die Vision on the East German state-owned record label AMIGA. Also that summer Reeder was one of the 100-odd participants of the first Love Parade, a peaceful demonstration with music, on West Berlin’s main road, the Kurfürstendamm. Something was in the air, not just with music (though somewhat prophesized by it) and on 9th November 1989 the Wall fell after 28 years and West Berlin became history. Reeder had left Berlin the day before to travel through Eastern Europe and didn’t find out until days later.
In the aftermath of 1989 Reeder can also be credited with promoting the likes of Paul van Dyck and the ever-changing underground club scene which resonates in Berlin to this day and captivates a hedonistic global crowd – from venues that are gone but not forgotten like Risiko and Bar 25 to enduring ones such as Tresor, Berghain, and Watergate. Today Reeder is still living in Berlin as a highly regarded music producer, mixer and spokesperson. In 2012 he produced a remix album called 5.1 (denoting the sound quality), reworking songs by the likes of Anne Clark, Bad Lieutenant and Depeche Mode.
Despite some flaws in the juxtaposition of such a wide range of material, making this at times revisionist or intertextual, as well, perhaps, encountering final edit issues by changing the central subject matter to Mark Reeder himself, B-Movie is extremely compelling and achieves its hypothesis of a first person viewpoint on Berlin 1979-89 along with the excitement, the tension, the unpredictability and the oddball assortment of people Reeder would encounter. The film was compiled and produced by Jorg A. Hoppe, Klaus Maeck and director Heiko Lange. So far, it has played the festival circuit and had limited release (not least in Berlin) with special screenings elsewhere in Europe. With the assumed DVD release making viewing ubiquitous, anticipation comes in viewing more unseen archive material and the stories behind them.