Five great reggae films to see after Bob Marley: One Love

Five great reggae films to see after Bob Marley: One Love

Some program additions to the biopic of the singer of Exodus currently in theaters.

The Harder They Come (Perry Henzell, 1972)

The film that set things on fire. Because it is indeed to cinema that reggae owes part of its worldwide impact, at the beginning of the 70s. To this film, therefore, The Harder They Come (released at the time in France under the title Everything, right away) and above all to its phenomenal soundtrack, which functioned as a best-of of the best sounds of Jamaica, an introduction to reggae culture – “Pressure Drop”, “Rivers of Babylon”, “Johnny Too Bad”, plus all the hits sung by the star of the film Jimmy Cliff, “Many Rivers To Cross”, “You Can Get It If You Really Want”, the title track… Cliff plays in the film a young country boy who comes to try his luck as a singer in Kingston, but who ends up finding himself battling drug dealers, cops, dirty producers and a bunch of rough boys. He will end up as a Third World (anti-)hero, somewhere between Django, a proto-Scarface and a Caribbean Jesse James.
On DVD (import) from Shout! Factory.

Rockers (Ted Bafaloukos, 1978)

Less known than They Harder They Comea bit of a cult all the same, Rockers tells, like Perry Henzell’s film, the struggles of a Jamaican musician, between documentary feeling and good musical vibrations. The film was released at the end of a decade that saw Bob Marley go into orbit and reggae invade the world’s sound systems. We follow the wanderings of a broke drummer who buys a motorbike in order to hit the road and sell the latest musical releases to the record stores he meets along his way. But mafiosi are going to steal his precious machine… Started as a sort of Rasta variation on The Bicycle Thief, Rockers ends in a rebellious and libertarian thriller. We meet a number of local musical luminaries, Gregory Isaacs, Burning Spear, Robbie Shakespeare… Very relaxed in its narration, the film relies largely on the lanky charm of its main performer, Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace. And of course on its soundtrack, launched by a crazy version of “Satta Massagana”:

Babylon (Franco Rosso, 1980)

Babylon…Nothing to do with Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie. This Babylon-là was released in England in 1980 (and in French cinemas only in 2020) and describes the daily life of a DJ named Blue (played by singer Brinsley Forde) in depressed London at the very beginning of the 80’s, between sound system evenings , various confusions and daily confrontations with the endemic racism which was then rife in Thatcher’s England. The film initially follows a somewhat cottony rhythm, like a neo-Vitelloni caught in the scent of ganja, before the grip tightens on its main character and the tone becomes more and more serious, bitter and desperate. Considered at the time as a riot inciting fire (it was classified as X in the United Kingdom), Babylon is a sort of reggae counterpart of Lords by Philip Kaufman and Hate by Kassovitz.
Available on OCS and MyCanal.

Marley (Kevin Macdonald, 2012)

In today’s very bottled-up genre of musical bio-docu, Marley is one of the most imposing. Corned by the singer’s family, but not hagiographic, it was first to be directed by Martin Scorsese, then Jonathan Demme, before Kevin Macdonald took up the task. The director of Last King of Scotland there reformulates his questions about Africa, his interest in myths and figures bigger than lifeand questions the icon Marley from all angles – private life, mysticism, commitment, identity, fame, and of course music, which ultimately washes it all away, like a raging river.
Available on

Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen, 2020)

The second segment of the TV anthology Small Ax by Steve McQueen – who borrowed his title from a Bob Marley song (“If you are the big tree / We are the small axe”on the album Burnin’). An hour of pure dreamy sensuality in an underground London reggae party, in 1980. Fabulous moment of hypnosis when the sound system stops and the whole assembly sings “Silly Games”, by Janet Kay, a cappella. McQueen encapsulates the magic and freedom of summer evenings, the sensuality of bodies floating together in a stasis that we hope will never end, while giving music to be heard (the lovers rock of the title, a current of reggae full of soul and romanticism), largely ignored by British musical encyclopedias. The night, the music, the nostalgia that embraces you from early in the morning: something like a American Graffiti reggae.
On DVD from France Télévisions Distribution.

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