B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin 1979-1989 is a historically-oriented documentary that takes you through the unique underground music scene of the titular city that emerged during the 80s. Though clumsily-titled, it’s a fascinating portrait of a lost world of almost-surreal parties, rampant counter-culture and uninhibited artistic potential.
Structurally, B-Movie follows the gradual immersion of musician Mark Reeder into the city’s cultural ecosystem. Reeder’s narration does a superb job of capturing the thrill of arriving in a new city and the delight of discovering all it has to offer. At its heart, it’s as interested in being a study of Reeder’s own transition from tourist to tour guide as it is in documenting just how unique the sights and sounds of West Berlin were.
B-Movie’s pastiche of Berlin is brought to life entirely by a stylish blend of spliced-together video recordings from the period. Though dated, the footage adds a lot to the film’s efforts to feel genuine about its subject matter. There are even some nifty appearances by famous figures like Nick Cave, Tilda Swinton and Keith Haring – each of whom add their recounts to Reeder’s picture of the past.
Combined with this raw footage, the soundtrack in B-Movie does a great job of drawing out the zeitgeist of the time. It highlights both popular musical acts like Joy Division and Sex Pistols – as well as the dozens of unfamiliar local acts that help illustrate just how West Berlin pushed against the musical and artistic norms of the time. It’d be easy for a documentary like this to only focus on the broader historical and cultural factors at work but Reeder’s narration isn’t afraid to dive into the personal history connecting him to some of these local acts and individuals.
If there are any real shortcomings in the documentary, it’s that the film’s reliance on Reeder’s narration drains of any potential dramatic impact. It’s a work that’s grounded in a sense of place, rather than a sense of narrative – and your enjoyment may vary as a result. There are better documentaries out there but it’s hard to imagine one more definitive about its subject matter than this.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
B-Movie screens as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival on 8th August and 14th August. Find out more here: http://miff.com.au/program/film/b-movie-lust-sound-in-west-berlin