Moving Pictures 27.08.2007
Dean Reed - As I Knew Him
Our paths crossed for the first time at the 1975 Moscow film festival.
At that time, I was covering the festival for Variety. And Dean was promoting a DEFA "western" titled Blutsbrüder (Blood Brothers) (East Germany, 1975), directed by Werner W. Wallroth. It had been released in the GDR just a couple weeks before the Moscow festival opened.
Blood Brothers is the story of a cavalryman (Dean Reed) siding with the Plains Indians after a bloody massacre by American troops. The reference is to the infamous Sand Creek Massacre of the Cheyennes that had taken place in eastern Colorado in November of 1864.
Since Dean Reed had collaborated on the screenplay for Blood Brothers, I wanted to know more about the inspiration behind the making of the film. (Years later, when Kevin Kostner's Dancing With Wolves was screened at the 1990 Berlinale, I — and other East Berlin cineastes — noted that film's thematic similarity to Blood Brothers.)
It turned out that Dean was more interested in talking about his next project. For, as interesting as Blood Brothers was, he was planning to direct his own screenplay for El Cantor (The Singer) (East Germany, 1978) — the story of popular Chilean balladeer Victor Jara (1932-1973), who had been killed during the Pinochet coup.
Since Reed had known Jara personally, he felt that he could both direct and interpret the role of the Chilean idol with some force and dignity.
Made for GDR television, El Cantor never got the commercial exposure it fully deserved, particularly in the West. But, even though El Cantor came across as a rather far-fetched biopic about a legendary hero, it's still one of the most noteworthy of the Dean Reed movies.
When I asked Dean why he had left Rome and the Italo-Westerns behind to work in East Berlin, he only hinted that Blood Brothers wasn't much different than what he had been doing before.
But my query was just a ploy anyway. I knew that he was already an immensely popular rockstar in the Soviet Union and throughout Socialist Europe. So why keep milking a faltering movie career when thousands will turn out for a concert by "Comrade Rockstar"?
On another occasion, when I was hiking my way to Dom Kino, the headquarters of the Union of Soviet Filmmakers, Dean stopped me on the street and invited me to jump in his taxi for the ride. When we got there, the taxi driver refused payment. Instead, he wanted an autographed photo — for his daughter.
Dean told me this was nothing usual. Once, he said, he motorcycled across the breadth of the Soviet Union. "It was a snap. Along the way, everyone knew who I was. My rock concerts had been televised."
Our paths crossed briefly in the spring of 1978. In Iraq. At the Baghdad Festival of Palestinian Films.
I was there covering the festival for Variety. Vanessa Redgrade was promoting her production of Roy Battersby's The Palestinian (UK, 1977). Gina Lollobrigida was taking photographs. And Dean Reed was singing the praises of Yasser Arafat.
Dean did his show, then left in a hurry for another concert engagement.
We met for a third time in October of 1985. In his hometown. At the Denver film festival. But in that is a whole other story.