In 1978, director Theodore Bafaloukos pulled off an incredible feat – he made a movie so unpretentious that it’s easy to forget you’re even watching a scripted feature at all. Bafaloukos, who was a Greek freelance photographer, had set out to make a documentary about the burgeoning reggae scene he first discovered in 1975 when Island records sent him to Jamaica on assignment. Yet, his resulting film Rockers doesn’t so much document as it does flow.
The cast is composed almost entirely of local musicians playing exaggerated versions of themselves, the plot is forgettable, and the film was clearly produced by a crew that had enjoyed a bit too much of Jamaica’s local cash crop, but Rockers is nonetheless a perfect time capsule of the uninhibited infancy of reggae. The scenes meld together as the main character, drummer Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace (played by himself of course) takes us through the lively streets of the Kingston ghetto and beyond.
At the time, the Kingston scene was largely separated from the corporate music industry (barring Bob Marley of course), but they were still aware of the world at large, which creates this interesting subculture in which the characters laze across the screen speaking Jamaican Patois, while also wearing U.S. military surplus gear. As the characters crisscross through the shanty-filled streets, the painted buildings and lush jungles create a vibrant setting that almost pulses along with the steady beat of the film’s reggae score. In the end the film isn’t so much about anything in particular as it is about capturing the cultural mishmash that was Jamaican reggae in its loose early years.