The great reggae singer Gregory Isaacs died today after a long battle with lung cancer. As per tradition, I’m going to use this moment to celebrate the deceased through his documentary appearances. Isaacs can be seen prominently in three films (“Rockers,” “Land of Look Behind” and “Made in Jamaica”), and though one is not technically or completely non-fiction, it does somewhat fit the documentary tradition and format. This is his first, “Rockers,” a 1978 musical from Ted Bafaloukos originally intended to be an actual doc about reggae. It has a plot, inspired by realist films like “Bicycle Thieves,” and some bad acting, mostly from the non-non-actors. But it also functions at times as a concert film. Isaacs, for instance, plays a character named Jah Tooth (or was that really a nickname/alias of the artist musically and/or personally?), but also is introduced as himself when he performs on stage.
See him in both capacities — in the latter singing “Slave Master” — in a clip from the film after the jump.
Next Isaacs appeared in the total documentary “Land of Look Behind,” which also was to be something else initially. At first filmmaker Al Greenberg meant to simply film Bob Marley’s funeral. But he continued to film the nation and its culture, including of course the music. Fans of Werner Herzog should take note of this 1982 film because it was shot by cinematographer Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein. Also, Greenberg was in “Heart of Glass” and Herzog himself does a commentary track on this film’s DVD, mainly just because he’s a fan. If you don’t care about the Herzog part, you can watch the whole film on YouTube, in parts.
Here’s a scene of Isaacs talking about music and then performing “Poor and Clean” and “Party in the Slum”:
Finally, Isaacs more recently showed up in Jérôme Laperrousaz’s reggae history documentary “Made in Jamaica,” which just came out on DVD earlier this year. Here are two clips, one of him singing “Kingston 14” and one of him singing “Border.”
I almost want to say his voice was better as he got older.
Rest in Peace, and thank you for some wonderful concert film moments.