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MOVIES (GFF 2022): Rebel Dread - Review

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You don’t have to be familiar with Don Letts to get something out of Rebel Dread, his influence on infusing Afro-Caribbean music into the early punk scene that led to his shooting of over 300 music videos ranging from Public Image Ltd to Bob Marley and the famous London Calling video, there's something here for the uninitiated genre fans - it's a film that almost feels about as rebellious as the genre that he popularised – drawing attention to the cultural issues of the late 60s tracing how he got into punk, linking his connections to his career to his discovery of bands like The Who and The Clash, with the mood of the film changing as these bands are introduced to Letts’ life, backed by a soundtrack for the ages.

It's a documentary that fits the mould of music docs about the era – more reliant on its archive footage and talking heads-style documentary than anything else – looking at life before and after the hate-fuelled Rivers of Blood speech and how things changed for Letts, these moments acting as a collective reasoning that justifies his rebel stance – culminating in him burning down a table at school. He isn’t shy in crediting his origins, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren are namedropped, and it’s one of those films that will not only inform you if you’re unfamiliar but provide a catered sense of familiarity to those who know more about Letts' – it’s the personal touches of his life that makes this documentary what it is and it’s hard not to underestimate how massively influential he was.

The film’s visuals paint a unique culture of London in the 60s, from the jackets that were sold as Acme Attractions to the transformation of punk into being covered by the news. It’s a collective a-to-b tour of the greatest hits of Letts' career – and punk history – The Clash’s White Riot tour only gets a passing mention to give you an idea as to how rich this journey is, but it’s used as a wider cultural backdrop to provide how the genre got misinterpreted so quickly from the mainstream press.

Whilst Rebel Dread may not win many converts and sometimes feels a bit too safe at times given its origins especially once in the latter half when it heads to America, mixing in hip-hop with punk rock and exploring a melting pot of culture, it’s a must-see for those who want to learn more about the history of the genre and massively influential figures in it. I was fascinated in particular by the cinematic influences that Letts brought to the table, the influences of film is presented everywhere here - and it runs off the charts - as Letts' music video side comes into play that takes up much of his career, the film never shies away from his passion with the camera.

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