William E Badgley turns his camera towards cult figure Don Letts, chronicling the collision between the UK’s punk and reggae subcultures.
Yet another unfortunate victim of our cultural impasse, punk nowadays is defined by a yearning mired in rose-tinted idealism, inundated with distinct genre classifications and fleeting fashion trends. Among a crowded market of retrospectives repackaged for nostalgia buffs, which deify your typical white British punk bands, arrives an edifying bio-doc demystifying a culture shaker who turned a generation of punks onto reggae.
Don Letts spent his salad days working at Chelsea’s anti-establishment basement boutique Acme Attractions before picking up a Super 8 camera to document the UK’s burgeoning punk and reggae scenes. He would go on to direct over 300 music videos for the likes of Bob Marley, The Clash, The Slits and Elvis Costello.
Assembled from his own personal recollections, a treasure trove of archival footage and a cavalcade of talking heads including Daddy G (Massive Attack), John Lydon (Sex Pistols) and Jeannette Lee (Rough Trade Records), Rebel Dread manages to imbue a rich countercultural history with some much-needed political nuance.
That said, a mild case of Wikipedia syndrome is to be expected from such bio-docs, but with five decades to plow through, director William E Badgley manages to skilfully compact the Rebel Dread’s political awakening and leftfield creative escapades into an insightful document of an integral fragment in British pop history.
Support our independent journalism and receive monthly film recommendations, exclusive essays and more
Become a member
Published 3 Mar 2022
Tags: Don Letts Rebel Dread William E Badgley
One of the most prominent talking heads in the UK’s music documentary circuit finally gets a doc of his own.
There’s an electrifying authenticity to Don Letts that sets him apart from his white collar punkster peers.
Though a bit rough around the edges, it’s an engaging profile that doesn’t shy away