Neil Spencer 

Seen Kevin Macdonald’s Marley biopic? Here’s more reggae on celluloid

Neil Spencer: From Kingston to Lewisham, here are five other must-see reggae movies
  
  

The Harder They Come (Dir. Perry Henzell, Jamaica, 1972)

Jamaica's first feature, and the one against which others are measured. The plot – poor country boy seeks fortune in city – is archetypal, but Henzell cleverly turns our admiration for hero Ivan (Jimmy Cliff in incendiary form) into revulsion, as the film shifts through melodrama, comedy and musical into tragedy. Immortal movie moments – "You think the hero can be dead before the last reel?" scoffs Ivan at one point – and a stunning soundtrack led by Cliff's title song make this a five-star classic.

Rockers (Dir. Ted Bafaloukos, Jamaica, 1979)

A "Dreadsploitation" flick that's now a vibrant time capsule of reggae's halcyon days. Drummer Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace plays a hapless muso caught up in Kingston's music wars. The plot's paper thin, but there's a gallery of great cameo appearances – Jacob Miller and Gregory Isaacs among them – and a host of attitudinous walks, oversize spliffs, overheated streets and cool green hills.


Babylon (Dir. Franco Rosso, UK, 1981)

Less a film about reggae than a portrait of the African-Caribbean community in south London. Aswad's Brinsley Ford plays Blue, car mechanic by day, soundsystem MC by night. As a clash with rival system Jah Shaka looms, brutal police racism intervenes. The script is often prosaic but Ford excels and Lewisham's mean streets and intense dancehalls are well captured. Dennis Bovell's soundtrack is another plus.

Peter Tosh Stepping Razor: X Files (Dir. Wayne Jobson, Jamaica, 1992)

For a founder of the original Wailers' triumvirate, Tosh isn't much of a presence in Marley. While a lesser talent than Bob, Tosh's militancy was an inspirational element in reggae's evolution, and his murder in 1989 a tragedy. Wayne Jobson's film tells his story with compassion but without shying from Tosh's contrary, paranoid streak. Even Keith Richards couldn't handle him.

Dancehall Queen (Dir. Rick Elgood/Don Letts, Jamaica, 1997)

Kingston street vendor and mother Marcia (Audrey Reid) is pushed around and blackmailed by two different gangsters, but finds escape and revenge as a mystery contestant in the Dancehall Queen contest. Simple but effective, DQ is crammed with humour, violence, blatantly erotic dancing and has a great, uproarious soundtrack led by Beenie Man.