J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, April 08, 2016

KINO! NYC ’16: B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West Berlin 1979-1989

Apparently, West Berliners really did dig Hasselhoff. They also enjoyed Joy Division, the Bad Seeds, WestBam, Malaria! (exclamation point part of the cult band’s name) and Nena (99 Luftballoons), whom they really, really loved for a brief but shining period in the early 1980s. British expat Mark Reeder was there to hear it all. Reeder takes an archival nostalgia trip in Jörg A. Hoppe, Heiko Lange & Klaus Maeck’s B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West Berlin 1979-1989 (trailer here), which screens during KINO! 2016, the German Film Festival in New York.

We should absolutely acknowledge anyone who spent as much time in record shops as Reeder did as a kindred spirit. Growing up as an unemployable youth in Manchester during the Labour governments of Wilson and Callaghan, Reeder adopted German synthesizer music as his thing. Ironically, he left for West Berlin in 1979, just as the economy was about to rebound under Thatcher. Perversely, West Berlin seemed to exist in a state of permanent depression bordering on surreal, demilitarized squalor. Yet, the locals seemed to like it that way. It kept rents cheap, squats ignored, and the club scene raging into the not so early hours of the morning.

Frankly, it is a little annoying to hear the entitled scensters whine about the FRG’s crackdown on RAF terrorism and the like, while their parents in Munich, Bonn, and Frankfurt footed the bills. At least, Reeder was rather industrious, managing Malaria!, playing in Shark Vegas, dubbing porn, and hosting music programs for British television. He also personally documented the scene quite extensively on Super 8, but to confuse matters, Marius Weber often appears as Reeder in retro-looking recreations.

Eventually, the film finally acknowledges there was a rather conspicuous Wall dividing Berlin. In fact, Reeder deserves credit for frequently smuggling records to East Berlin’s underground Punks. Frankly, he comes off better than the milieu he was swimming in, especially the German Punks who adopted National Socialist iconography, like their American counterparts. Still, the Wild West vibe inspired expats like David Bowie and Nick Cave to do some of their best work there.

Although he is underrepresented in B-Movie, Bowie still emerges as the film’s most significant figure for his historic Brandenburg Gate concert, deliberately produced so his fans in the East could hear songs like “Heroes.” Frankly, the film ought to have a better sense of the big picture, but instead, it is an idiosyncratic, intermittently diverting account of West Berlin’s cross-pollinating Punk, New Wavish, and proto-electronica scenes. Mostly just recommended for fans of the bands Reeder hung out with, B-Movie: Lust & Sound screens tonight (4/8) and Monday (4/11) at the Cinema Village, as part of this year’s KINO! In New York.

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