words by Tassos Brekoulakis, photos by Theodoros Bafaloukos, via Viceland
Vice mag just did a nice piece on Rockers director Theo Bafaloukos, including a mumma-lode of stills taken on-set and some beauties of cast and crew parring around 1970s New York. This is reminiscent of a portfolio FADER mag did of associate producer Avrom Robinson’s pics way back in issue 12, but in spite of some glaring factual errors (Coxton Dodd?? Wikipedia, sons) this newly unearthed material is by far the stronger, both in terms of interviews and photos. The pics of Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace posing off in the snow on the roof of Bafaloukos’ Tribeca loft and dub pioneer Augustus Pablo flexing with his Cassava Piece crew on a tumbleweed-strewn stretch of the old elevated West Side Highway–twin towers dominating the background–are absolute classics. We decided to re-post our favs along with the interview, for the full set check the Vice site – Eddie STATS Houghton
Theodoros Bafaloukos wrote and directed Rockers, the film that single-handedly made Jamaica and reggae interesting to couch-cozy white folks, their stoner kids, and a bunch of famous English punks with guitars. Today, Ted is not so reclusive as he is remote, spending his time at his childhood home on the secluded Greek island of Andros. Over 30 years later, we made the long journey for this, his first-ever print interview.
In addition to screenwriting and filmmaking, Bafaloukos was also a production designer for three Oscar-winning directors (Barry Levinson, Errol Morris, Jonathan Demme) and has helped conceive countless famous music videos, including that one for Aerosmith where Alicia Silverstone bungee-jumps off a freeway overpass in a flannel and then flips off Stephen Dorff.
After a brief tour of his house—several hundred paintings and images of magnified snake parts dot the walls—he sat us down and started thumbing his way through some old photo albums. Many of these were from his time shooting Rockers. As you’ll see, it’s a trove of archival happiness.
Vice: How did you first find yourself in Jamaica?
Theodoros Bafaloukos: I went there in 1975 as a freelance photographer for Island Records with a friend, a young guy in the reggae scene. We took photos of faces on the island. It was interesting and exciting. It was also funny because they arrested me as a CIA spy.
Uh-oh. What happened?
I’d gone to a radio station to speak to someone from the community. I wanted to ask him for equipment and for help shooting a documentary—which is what I wanted to do originally. I was in the car with my friend, who was driving, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a man sticks his hand through the window, grabs a small notebook from my chest pocket, and runs into the building shouting “CIA, CIA!” I got out and tried to run after him, but when I got back, my friend and the car had vanished. I was scared. I found myself completely stranded, surrounded by strangers. The friends who had left told me later that they were terrified. We’re talking about a time when fear reigned and everyone was scared.
When did the police arrive?
Two jeeps appeared out of nowhere, full of cops—some in uniform, others looking like bouncers. The tougher ones with Uzis pounced out of the vehicle and arrested me. They put me in the jeep and paraded me through the streets at low speed so all could see that they had arrested a CIA agent! They took me to the police station, where it became obvious that they had no idea what to do with me. So they took me to another guy, who interviewed me.
An interrogation. When I entered the room, the interrogator was seated behind a desk with my notebook next to him. I went over, picked up the notebook from the desk, and put it into my pocket.
Gutsy. What was in the notebook?
The addresses of all the people I had met on the island, mostly musicians. I had promised to send them photographs upon my return to America, which I did.
So did they let you go immediately?
After I put the notebook in my pocket the guy said nothing, didn’t even budge. I answered his questions but he didn’t even know what to ask me. He had probably made a few phone calls and realized that this was all a mistake.
Looking at pictures of you from this period, you looked more like the lead in a Zapatista porn than a CIA agent.
Why, what does a CIA agent look like? [laughs] I had a Greek passport, which made me look even more suspicious. They took it away and kept me there for what seemed like an eternity. Another guy came to interrogate me, but that again led nowhere. It was 10 or 11 at night when suddenly this white guy appears and says, “Come with me,” leads me out of the room, puts me in a cab, and says, “Go, just go.” I said, “What about my passport?” And he said, “Get out of here, man.” So I left. I went to the house I was sharing and found them all there: my friend, Augustus Pablo, the whole gang. They were all younger than me. They were all scared and staring at me as if I had come back from the dead. They basically said, “Sorry, they’ll come to kill you tonight and we don’t want to stick around.”