Perry Henzell's 1972 film The Harder They Come will always be the quintessential reggae movie, forever tied to the music and culture of Jamaica. But if The Harder They Come introduced reggae on the big screen, giving it a cinematic identity, then Ted Bafaloukos' 1978 Rockers-recently reissued on DVD-gave it heart and soul.
There's not much plot in Rockers, but then again, story is never that important in music-driven films of this nature. Indeed, more often than not, the measure of quality for such films is the soundtrack. And with tracks from the golden era of reggae that includes Burning Spear, Inner Circle, Gregory Isaacs and more, Rockers is an unparalleled classic.
What little plot there is borrows from a wide variety of influences, including The Bicycle Thief and Robin Hood. In a role inspired by his real life as a popular drummer, Leroy Wallace stars as Horsemouth, a session musician who scrapes together enough money to buy a motorcycle as part of his record-distribution business. Horsemouth's bike gets stolen one night at a party, leading to confrontation between him, with his gang of rockers (reggae musicians), and some local gangsters. And that's pretty much all there is to it.
Like Charlie Ahearn's seminal hip-hop film, Wild Style, which would come along a few years later, Rockers is a gritty slice-of-life glimpse into a musical world, in this case that of Jamaican rockers and Rastafarians. Bafaloukos, who started as a still photographer and brings a keen eye to the film's direction, mixes raw authenticity with quirky charm, creating a documentary-like feel. Much of the time it doesn't even seem like anyone is acting, as if Bafaloukos and his crew just happen to capture people on film during their day-to-day routines.