The Athens News, Thursday, November 14, 1985
'American Rebel' comes home
By Dan Nather
After five years of traveling halfway around the world and shooting 20 hours of film, local filmmaker Will Roberts brought his latest motion picture documentary "American Rebel" to the Athena I last night. "American Rebel" tells the story of Dean Reed, a good rock and roll singer in the '50s and early '60s who, after making a series of singles for Capitol records, became a phenomenal success in South America, and continues to play sold-out concerts in 32 countries around the globe, singing in English, Spanish, Italian and German. He has also appeared in nearly two dozen motion pictures in Italy and Bulgaria.
Reed, who now makes his home in East Germany with his third wife, actress Renata Blume and an adopted son, came home for the film's premiere at the Denver Film Festival last month and is touring the country along with Roberts and his film.
Although his misses the European crowds, Reed is enjoying his anonymity in America. "I've been here now in America for five weeks, and it's wonderful," he says. "I can do anything I want to on the street, I can whistle, I can click my heels and nobody looks at me and says anything. But, there, everybody will say, 'Hey, did you see what Dean was doing on the street? He was probably drunk!' All of a sudden, you have this freedom."
"American Rebel" came out better than he ever hoped, Reed says. "It's better than my expectations. The film is unique."
But he adds that he and Roberts did not always get along while the film was being shot. "Will and I have had terrible arguments," he says. "In Nicaragua, we shouted at each other because we disagree on political things. And yet the film comes over as if Will agrees with me on everything, and (he) doesn't."
"American Rebel" is the type of film where viewers are not going to make contrasts between filmmaker and subject easily, Reed says. "It's very controversial. (People) are not going to be able to say, 'The film was fantastic, but Dean's a shithead.' They are going to say the film is bad." He adds that Roberts is going to have to develop "a harder skin" in the light of this criticism, because "it is not the same type of film he has made before."
Reed, who calls himself an independent Marxist, believes in the socialist system, even though he states firmly that "I do not accept the Soviets as the model for the world. I believe that socialism is the only system that will solve the basic problems of mankind - hunger, lack of education, lack of medicine."
One thing that Americans don't understand about socialism is that every country molds it to its own set of standards, Reed says. "The main problem in America is when you talk about socialism, you think for some reason it's a monolithic thing, and it's all the same."
"Each country is so different in their economic basis, in their cultural basis. In the Soviet Union, everything is owned by the state. In East Germany, we have a whole private enterprise - the restaurants, garages, shoe shops, are all privately owned. I could get a loan from a bank and open a private place. There's controls - I could not have more then 20 workers. They try to control it so it doesn't get out of control, and all of a sudden you have a big capitalist who's trying to exploit the workers again."
The state also makes a considerable amount from his sell-out concerts. Artists are cultural workers in a socialist system, and are paid the same ceiling wage of no more than $300 a day for concerts. The rest goes to the state.
"The state makes a lot of money, but it comes back to me. It doesn't bother me," Reed says, "I have complete security. If I get sick, my family will be taken care of. If I get killed tomorrow... I have no fear that my child will not get the proper education. There's no unemployment. They have to give him a job, by law."
He lives in a house owned by the state for which he pays $33 a month in rent, and the state also pays for education and medical and dental care.
"This security I would never have in America, even if I made a million. It could be gone in 10 years, and I could be unemployed because all of a sudden the fashions change and they don't buy my records anymore. And so I feel more secure there, even through I make less."
Making records is even less lucrative. Performers get paid per recorded minute on a record, and Reed makes an average of $600 on each record he makes. Composers, however, are paid for each copy sold, not just once, which is one reason why Reed writes about half of the songs on each album he makes.
The other reason is that he believes he can stir people to action through music, singing songs like his own "Bloodbrothers," "Nicola and Bart," as well as his own versions of songs like "We Shall Overcome" and "Give Peace A Chance."
Reed went back to South America in 1961 because he was a success there, but he stayed for five years when he saw the poverty of the lower classes and how 20 percent of the people in the upper classes, in regimes supported by American military and economic might, controlled everything. For that reason, he became a revolutionary.
"The contradictions were too great for me," he says, "You take (it) step-by-step, and one becomes aware of the realities. I started working with the trade unions and the peace committees, and with each step I took, the U.S. government hit me back."
"I have a lot of hate in me, because so many of my dearest friends have been tortured to death in Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina. And, so I have hate against the foreign policy of the government of the United States. When you have a friend who has been killed, you have this kind of hate."
He stills get a twinge of disappointment when he considers the success of worldwide and local charity concert efforts like Live Aid and Farm Aid. "We do that all the time. I would have loved to have taken part in it. I always get hurt feelings."
"It would have been fantastic if I could have flown over and also been part of that thing. But what is also interesting is that we have done those things for years now. We call them 'solidarity concerts.' In all socialist countries, I sing in these things for free every month. The singers come together, we sing for free, and all the money goes to ... solidarity for Nicaragua or Chile or to people who need help."
"And everybody talks about what happened in America because it was so great, they made so much money. That much money we don't make. But the money we make goes to the same type of causes."
Reed thinks that if "American Rebel" is successful, it could open doors for him in this country, particularly since he is planning a film based on Wounded Knee. He would like to return to America, but he wants to maintain a few standards.
"I would love to come back to this country if I could be productive, creative, retain my dignity and my own ideals, and make the kind of films I believe in. But I'm not ready to come back and do Coca-Cola ads to make a living. I've done too much in my life to do that."
"The ideal thing would be to come back and make the film about Wounded Knee in America and not have to do it in the Soviet Union, 'cause it would be easier to do it at the Pine Ridge Reservation than to make a Pine Ridge Reservation in the Crimea."