Rebel Dread (2020) Eye for Film Movie Review

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“One of the most satisfying viewing experiences of the year so far.”

Although often characterized as nihilistic and purely oppositional, the impact of the punk movement on culture, society, and the way ordinary people thought about the world could be seen as something of a renaissance. If so, there could be no more remarkable Renaissance man than Don Letts. His achievements are so manifold that it is difficult to summarize them under a more conventional label. He’s a filmmaker, musician, DJ, TV presenter, fashion icon, outspoken thinker. It is perhaps because of this variety that nobody has so far tried to take his story to the cinema. Veteran music documentary maker William E Badgley, best known for Here To Be Heard: The Story Of The Slits, crams a massive amount into just an hour and a half of film, creating one of the most satisfying movie-watching experiences ever. year to date.

When the subject of a film has an executive producer credit, there is always a danger that the work of the documentarian will be compromised. Letts’ no-nonsense approach is reassuring here, though, and he doesn’t claim to have lived a mistake-free life or made all the best choices. From setting fire to his desk at school in an attempt to draw attention to a reckless early marriage, he owns it and acknowledges how it helped shape the person he is today.

Letts is perhaps first and foremost a storyteller, an avid historian, and his storytelling forms the backbone of the film. He talks about the impact of racism on his childhood and how it worsened after Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech when he was 12. He reflects on discovering rock n’ roll at a Who concert and breaking into the real scene thanks to Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, hanging around their shop until they gave him a job. On her parents’ reaction: “They had sent me to high school and expected great things from me, but here I was kind of going down this different path.” By meeting Jeanette Lee, who became his girlfriend and took him to see The Clash, prompting him to trade his entire Beatles collection for a cool American car the next day.

It may have been impulsive, but it’s not just another wild, goofy rock n’ roll story. Letts’ life took a different turn when he decided to buy a video camera and start filming concerts and parties that he thought were important but no one else was documenting. The significance of this contribution to the historical record of early punk was enormous. Much of his personal archive still hasn’t entered the public sphere, so there’s some untold tidbits here for those interested in the period. This initially directionless recording took on a new dimension when rumors that he was filming a punk rock film gave him the idea to do so, adding another string to his bow and allowing the punk movement to expand into another support.

Letts’ story isn’t limited to punk history, of course, though he seemed to retain more of his core sensibility than most of his peers when he refused to sell after he started to be corporatized. This documentary also discusses his impact on the birth of hip hop in New York, his experimental work with Big Audio Dynamite, and his efforts, over the decades, to bring together different musical styles and musicians with very different backgrounds to create something unique. new.

Alongside all of this career-focused material, there are episodes in which Letts talks about her personal life and her efforts to better understand herself and make meaningful connections. There are footage from his trip to Namibia, where he thought he might find his roots and instead found himself struggling to connect with a radically different way of life, causing him to reassess aspects of his identity. and how others see it. The film, which is lively throughout and broken up by graphic novel-style inserts that perfectly capture its style and character, gets more thoughtful towards the end, but that doesn’t mean it gets sentimental. Letts is interested in tackling a story bigger than his own and ends with a stark message that is likely to piss off American censors but gets his message across perfectly.

Reviewed on: Apr 19, 2022

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