Moving Pictures 23.08.2007
My Side of the Dean Reed Story
Dean Reed — American Rebel
Tom Hanks is going to make a movie about Dean Reed — the "Red Elvis" of the socialist bloc. The lanky, handsome, charismatic Colorado cowboy singer who chose the communist East over the capitalist West. The actor-singer who starred in 18 movies, recorded 13 rock albums, and toured eastern Europe as a protest singer and political activist.
All the while polishing his image as an American rock'n'roll rebel.
You can find a lot of free-falling information on the Net about the life and times of Dean Reed (1938-1986). But you're better advised to view any one of three documentaries about the man and the myth.
The most interesting of the lot is Will Roberts's American Rebel: The Dean Reed Story (USA, 1985). Filmed in Colorado, Los Angeles, Chile, Argentina, Germany, Italy, Russia and the Middle-East, American Rebel premiered at the Denver film festival with both Reed and Roberts present. Among the interviewees in the film is Paton Price, the Hollywood acting coach who had introduced the singer to left-wing political action.
A year after American Rebel was released, Dean Reed was dead. His body was found in a lake near where he lived in East Berlin.
As mysterious as was Dean Reed's death, its cause was not explored in a film until eight years later. Some details began to come to light in Peter Gehrig's documentary Dean Reed – Glamour und Protest (Germany, 1993), also known as Ein Cowboy im Sozialismus (A Cowboy in Socialism). Gehrig interviewed Reed's two German wives, Renate Blume and Wiebke Reed, along with East German colleagues who knew him well.
According to one filmmaker friend, Günter Reisch, who was collaborating with Reed on a film about the February 1973 American Indian standoff at Wounded Knee when he died, Dean had committed suicide — death from drowning and an apparent overdose of sleeping pills.
Recently, triggered perhaps by Tom Hanks's interest in Dean Reed as material for a Hollywood production, a third documentary has now appeared on the scene: Leopold Grün's Der Rote Elvis (The Red Elvis) (Germany, 2006). Programmed in the Panorama at this year's Berlinale, The Red Elvis picks up where Dean Reed – Glamour und Protest left off.
Only this time, the myth and legend take priority.
The Red Elvis opens with an interview with Lana Davis (formerly Svetlana Novikova), a Russian émigré and die-hard Dean Reed admirer. Unabashedly, she tells how Dean Reed had enlivened her drab life — and thousands of others — with his rock concerts during the stifling Brezhnev era. For his sake, she taught herself English and emigrated to Denver, just to be near to his grave.
German fans of Dean Reed — and there are many — have been celebrating the commercial release of The Red Elvis across Germany at the end of July.
Just check the Dean Reed website — www.deanreed.de — and you will find fan-club references to the "American Rebel" as freedom-fighter, singer, actor, director, whatever. Over Dean's portrait runs the line "Let Me Sing With My People" — followed by an appeal for donations to keep the website going.
And now I hear from Günter Reisch, whose visit at my home I will chronicle in a blog to follow.