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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This week at SFC: Catch a Fire and Land of Look Behind

Our screenings are free and all are welcome.

Thursday November 29

First film starts at 7:30pm.

A Jamaican double this week...get here early to Catch a Fire!

Classsic Albums: Bob Marley & the Wailers - Catch a Fire (Jeremy Marre/1999/60')

The Wailers, featuring the legendary Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer, became the most influential band in the history of reggae music. Catch a Fire, their first Island album, released in 1973, introduced them to an international rock audience. Here the principal figures in the creation of Catch a Fire tell the story of how this record was designed to "cross over."

In the late '60s, the notion that reggae would break into the mainstream would have been laughed at. To achieve this, the movement needed a powerful voice of prophetic proportions. This voice emerged from the collective work of three pioneering friends from Jamaica, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and Robert Nesta Marley, who sought to bring about an ideological revolution through deeply meditative, hypnotic, and spiritual music. Catch a Fire was the Wailers' and reggae's introduction to the world and turned Bob Marley into a mega-icon of enormous proportions. It was the first album to remain true to the traditions of reggae music while having enough elements that were accessible to popular culture.

Land of Look Behind (Alan Greenberg/1982/90')

Land of Look Behind is an overlooked poetic document by Alan Greenberg from1982. Filmed in Jamaica in May and June of 1981, Greenberg’s initial intention, to my knowledge, was purely to capture Bob Marley’s funeral, and the impact of his death on the island’s culture. But somehow, like an unusual tropical blossom, the film unfolds into something more striking and beautiful than even Greenberg himself expected. It becomes an organic portrait of the very soul of Jamaica, and the earthy, pervasive sub-strata of Rastafarianism. 

Formally the flows easily, seemingly growing from the climate, the music, the speech patterns, and the gentle landscape of the island itself. Footage of Marley’s coffin driven in the back of a pickup along the dusty roadways lined with throngs of devastated admirers does serve as a visual centerpiece. But the heart of the film inhabits its details. For me, specific images seem to recur in my memory (I’ve seen the film several times): the way that, in the opening sequence, a backwoods countryman carefully locates and presents a small indigenous tree toad to the camera; a shot of Gregory Isaacs as he exits a ground floor office and walks into Kingston’s hard sunlight; and the haunting closing sequence involving a young Rasta in the hills undulating to Marley’s music and rhythms floating from a tape player, as though the music contains thee secret code to a deep spiritual  mystery. And in fact it does.

In the end Land of Look Behind, in its casual, organic way taps into the true of the gifts of Jamaican culture, both musical and spiritual, to somehow become a near perfect portrait of the strength and pride of its people. In my opinion, Alan Greenberg’s film rounds out a trilogy of great movies from Jamaica which also includes The Harder They Come and Rockers. I’m happy to recommend it as a film that has not yet received the attention it deserves.

-- Jim Jarmusch


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