Mark Reeder explains how he became the accidental protagonist in the doco ‘B-Movie: Lust & Sound In West Berlin’, which dives head first into the heady post-punk scene of the ’80s, and is screening at the Antenna Documentary Film Festival.
“We didn’t want to make a film that was just talking heads or people going, ‘Ooh I kind of remember the ‘80s’. We didn’t want anything like that.”
B-Movie is not so much a documentary as an extended music video/biography of Manchester-native Mark Reeder’s experiences in West Berlin in the ten years leading up to the fall of the Berlin wall. Told through archive footage of Berlin’s underground punk scene, re-enactments and a friendly, informative overlay from its protagonist, B-Movie is a thrilling and viscerally creative exploration of music, culture and film in East and West Berlin. Never intended to be the film’s primary focus, the film’s star and subject sat down to explain how he came on board.
“The producer initially asked me if I would help to restore some of the music for the film and writing the score,” Reeder says. “When I told him I had some things from the ‘80s, VHS and footage that he could use I never imagined that I would become the protagonist of the film.”
“He said he had a better idea. He told me that instead of making a jigsaw puzzle of pictures he said ‘I want to tell your story’ and weave the pictures around your story,” says Reeder, who also did the music for the film.
Reeder worked as a sound engineer, producer and actor in West Berlin, organising the very first illegal gig by a West Berlin band in Soviet-controlled East Berlin. “For me, East Berlin was an enigma, nobody knew anything about East Berlin, and in West Berlin people didn’t know about East Berlin… I was interested in what was going on over there and I made friends over there, friends who were a part of this very small punk scene.”
“East Germany was like a parallel world, there was no advertising, very few cars, everything was a bit cheaper, it was like Star Trek, being beamed down to your world but with a slight difference, like going back in time,” explains Reeder.
“We did this secret gig in East Berlin, that was the first one in 1983, and at the time we didn’t realise that it was the very first time a band from the west had illegally performed in East Berlin, and it caused a real ripple throughout the whole of the punk scene in East Germany and kind of motivated everybody to form punk bands.”
Jumping between various roles and the then-divided city, the English record-store worker had a hugely significant impact on the music scene, bearing witness to the political upheaval of East and West Berlin.
“All these roles kind of fell in my lap, I felt like a bit of a human pinball machine,” comments Reeder. “I was a sound engineer, I knew a lot of people and as the factory record representative of Germany; playing in a band myself, I was their sound engineer and support act.”
“Towards the latter half of 1989 I was invited by the state owned record label of East Germany to produce an album,” he continues. “They’d decided they would have to either make them official or ban them, and by banning them they’d get more of a cult following so they decided to control it by putting it on the label and asked me to produce their album.”
Working in the creative industry in Berlin, Reeder formed close relationships with well-known personalities, including actress Tilda Swinton and Nick Cave. “I met Nick in Berlin,” explained Mark Reeder. “He was fascinated with the idea of living in Berlin… he wanted to know how it was to live in Berlin and I said ‘Come over and stay at my place, hang out and see what you think. Once you’ve been here a while you’ll know what Berlin’s about’. That’s exactly what he did. One day I just heard ‘ding dong’ and there was someone at the door; we lived in this tiny 22 square metre flat with cold water and an outside toilet.”
Years on, Reeder still spends his days in the city, having continued in the industry for decades and watched the events depicted in B-Movie shape modern-day Berlin. “After the wall came down I started my record label called MFS. It became the first trance record label in Germany and it was also the first East German record label because it was based in East Berlin,” Reeder says.
“Of course, what we created in the ‘80s became the foundation stone for what became the techno scene in the ‘90s, which transported itself into the 21st century. Buildings have been renovated and there’s a bit of gentrification but that’s the price you pay for capitalism. That’s how things go, but the city’s an ongoing developing place. It still attracts the same kind of people as it did in the ‘80s, people who feel they don’t belong in their little villages or are a bit different or weird.”
“It’s this melting pot of cultures clashing all together and working together and being in the same frame of mind, and Berlin does that. It gives that feeling of freedom you don’t really have in many other places… it’s an ongoing thing, constantly evolving with new ideas that people bring to it. It’s really exciting and doesn’t change in that respect.”
B-Movie: Lust and Sound in West Berlin is screening at the Antenna Documentary Film Festival in Sydney.