Red Gringo (2016)

During the early 1960s, singer Dean Reed tried and failed to achieve stardom in the U.S. music scene. But he found a surprising level of popularity in South America, particularly in Chile, and for most of the 1960s he was a ubiquitous figure in the continent’s entertainment industry. Miguel Angel Viduarre’s documentary traces Reed’s unlikely stellar rise in South America, with rare recordings and film and television appearances that show the handsome performer perfectly at ease with Spanish-language lyrics.

But as the 1960s progressed, Reed’s penchant for left-wing politics became more pronounced and strident – and even his considerable popularity could not shield him from the repressive authoritarian political authorities that took control in South America during that era. (He was deported from Argentina in 1968 and left Chile before the 1973 Pinochet coup.) Reed relocated to Rome in the early 1970s and appeared in a few spaghetti Westerns before permanently settling in East Germany, where he was a major music star until his mysterious drowning death in a lake near his East Berlin home in 1986, when he was 47.

The film offers ample evidence of Reed’s abilities as a singer and a film actor, and his charisma is so pronounced that it is difficult to comprehend why he failed to click in his own country. But the footage where he proclaims his political beliefs offer a much less articulate and focused Reed, and his partisan passion quickly comes across as naïve and tiresome. Still, this is a fascinating tribute to an idiosyncratic artist.