As part of Film Feels Hopeful, Black Stock Films and Rhythm & View Film Festival, presents Lively Up Yourself! Celebrating Reggae on Film - a season showcasing a selection of films with reggae at the beating heart of them. To celebrate their activity, they've put together a hopeful reggae playlist for us. This activity is in partnership with Indy on Demand.
Reggae developed in 1960s Jamaica as a musical style reflecting political, social, cultural, economic, as well as spiritual issues. It is one of the most expressive musical forms around, and discovering the genre on film is worthwhile, even if the storylines sometimes require sub-titles.
The Harder They Come (Dir: Perry Henzell), starring Jimmy Cliff, was like an explosion on the big screen when it was released in 1972. The film’s iconic imagery promoted the full vibrancy of reggae and Jamaican culture (warts and all), with a gritty Robin Hood-like storyline, bombastic soundtrack of classic hits, including the title track, The Harder They Come and Many Rivers to Cross, by Jimmy Cliff, Pressure Drop, by Toots & The Maytals, Rivers of Babylon by the Melodians, and 007 (Shanty Town) by the irrepressible Desmond Dekker, among other timeless tracks.
Meanwhile, the tourist comedy Smile Orange (Dir: Trevor D Rhone, 1976) revealed a more joyous expression of island life, against a sombre underlying story about the inevitable hustles carried out by workers in the tourism industry as they eye holidaymakers from ‘foreign’ as fair game to be ripped off; even as they themselves are exploited by their bosses and geopolitics.
Reggae-influenced films with a social conscience made outside Jamaica included Pressure (Dir: Horace Ove, 1976), Babylon (Dir: Franco Rosso, 1980), and Burning An Illusion (Dir: Menelik Shabazz, 1981). Third World Cop (Dir: Chris Browne, 1999), Dancehall Queen (Dir: Don Letts & Rick Elgood, 1997) and Shottas (Dir: Cess Silvera, 2002) featured more raw and gritty subjects, storylines and soundtracks.
Marley, Kevin MacDonald’s biopic of reggae legend, Bob Marley, with its full access to Island Records, Marley’s own Tuff Gong label, and the Marley family’s archives, is superb. Try watching this film without feeling that you want to move: get up and dance, smile and even laugh about the beauty, resilience and brilliance of arguably reggae’s foremost ambassador and his musicality.
Reggae films always contain an enthralling mix of laugh-out loud humour, social realism, issues of concern, or identity. This can be seen in Menelik Shabazz’s exploration of the sweet soul-influenced reggae phenomenon of 1980s Britain, The Story of Lover's Rock (2011). As with his earlier, Burning an Illusion (1981), this will a talking point for years to come as illustrious movies that highlight unique episodes in Black British history, arts, music and social culture. The director sadly passed away in June 2021 – but –just like the vibrant force that is reggae music – his legacy lives on.
NOTE: Try sitting still when you play these tunes!
1) Gregory Isaacs – Sad to Know (you’re leaving)
2) Tarrus Riley – She’s Royal
3) Norman ‘Star’ Collins – Let Me Go
4) Bob Marley – Redemption Songs
5) Chaka Demus & Pliers – Murder She Wrote
6) Aswad – My Love
7) Junior Murvin – Police and Thieves
8) Barrington Levi – Shine Eye Girl
9) Dennis Brown – Wolf and Leopards
10) Burning Spear – Columbus