B Movie: Lust and Sound in West Berlin

Jörg A. Hoppe, Klaus Maeck & Heiko Lange | Germany | 2015

2015 Berlin, Istanbul, Melbourne, Sarajevo, Athens

In 1978, Mark Reeder left Manchester behind and headed to West Berlin in search of his heroes, Tangerine Dream. Instead, he found an exciting, hedonistic underground scene full of artists and musicians, dreamers who had escaped conscription into the West German army by fleeing to the walled-in and heavily subsidised city. B-Movie: Lust and Sound in West Berlin follows that scene from the last days of punk to the fall of the wall and the birth of techno. The movie is almost a documentary, following Reeder’s dabbles in the music scene and friendships with the great and good of the Berlin scene. His personal Super 8 films from the decade are mixed up with archive shots of Berlin, TV footage and newly-shot scenes featuring a Reeder lookalike. It also feels kind of like one big party, as the camera follows him and his unbearably cool and attractive friends from concerts in squats to smoky, late night bars. The Wall features heavily, as West Berlin’s “life insurance” allowing the island city to keep its special status – the artists hold a 25th birthday party with fire breathers, and Keith Haring paints on it while border police warn him of the dangers. B-Movie doesn’t feel like a film for those who were there and saw it all happen. Reeder’s outsider status as a wide-eyed Englishman allows viewers to explore the city and its scene with him. It’s all a bit dry and self-deprecating, and that’s probably why it feels so relatable, making it seem like you, too, could move to Berlin, start an edgy new band, and spend your nights at Berghain!
– Lauren Cummings, qmunicate magazine, 3 February 2016.

This archive-heavy documentary revisits the vibrant music and art scene of West Berlin during the divided city’s punky, druggy, trashy 1980s heyday. Ever since Christopher Isherwood wrote the books that later inspired Cabaret, exiled Brits and other outsiders have flocked to decadent Berlin in search of personal and artistic liberation. This archetype received a potent reboot in the late 1970s when art-rock superstar David Bowie moved to the city to make some of his most revered albums. In the 1980s, young Bowie acolytes from all across Europe poured into divided Berlin, lured by its cheap rents, edgy reputation and unique Cold War setting as an island of bohemian excess encircled by Communist East Germany.

B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin is a clumsily titled but highly engaging documentary about Berlin’s vibrant post-punk underground scene, as filtered through the personal story of British-born Berliner Mark Reeder. It mixes staged reenactments featuring a Reeder lookalike (Marius Weber) with archive clips, home movies and scratchy super 8 footage, much of it never seen on screen before. Launched at the Berlinale this week to an appreciative hometown crowd, this slight but effortlessly enjoyable exercise in punky nostalgia will have obvious festival appeal and decent overseas sales potential, given that many of the cult artists it features later became international stars. Reeder’s English-language narration should help.

Growing up in Manchester, Reeder became friendly with the fabled rock band Joy Division and their Factory Records label boss Anthony Wilson, both later immortalized in Michael Winterbottom‘s 24 Hour Party People and Anton Corbijn‘s Control. Leaving Britain for West Berlin in 1979, Reeder soon became a key player in the city’s underground scene, working as a concert promoter and sound engineer, co-managing the cult electronic band Malaria! and playing with his own New Wave group Shark Vegas. He also dabbled in film, television and art projects. 

In Berlin, Reeder immersed himself in the city’s sleazy, druggy, boozy, late-night arty-party culture. A skilled networker with a fetish for military uniforms, he befriended local heroes and fellow exiles including Nick Cave, Gudrun Gut, techno music pioneer Westbam and Blixa Bargeld of noise-rock extremists Einsturzende Neubauten, all of whom feature in this movie in vintage footage and fragmentary voiceover. Other famous names who appear fleetingly include Tilda Swinton, Keith Haring, New Order, David Hasselhoff and Christiane Felscherinow, the former teenage junkie whose life story inspired Ulrich Edel‘s 1981 movie Christiane F: Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo.

Backed by the German TV networks ZDF and Arte, Lust & Sound was made by a trio of TV-trained directors including Klaus Maeck, a regular producer and music supervisor for the acclaimed German-Turkish film-maker Fatih Akin. The rich mixtape of music is a key selling point here, blending rare performance footage by the local artists listed above with snippets of Bowie, Joy Division, Sex Pistols, Tangerine Dream and others. The story ends with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the city’s rebirth as Europe’s new capital of electronic dance music, a subject which merits own documentary.

The fast-moving retro-collage style of Lust & Sound is indebted to the socially conscious rock documentaries of Julien Temple (The Filth and the Fury, Glastonbury), though the political context here feels frustratingly sketchy considering Berlin’s rich counter-cultural history. Not exactly deep but dense with detail, this is an appealing memoir of a wild decade in a city that remains a magnet for young bohemians and party animals from across the globe. Life is still a cabaret, old chum.
– Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter, 13 February 2015.

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