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April 05, 2010

The Harder They Come - Classic Film Pick

Harder_they_come Perry Henzell's 1972 rugged reggae crime story--loosely based on a '40s-era Jamaican folk hero/criminal--plays like a musically-inspired docudrama of the raw social reality of the impoverished island nation in the '70s. Henzell's exclusive use of non-professional actors adds to the film's undiluted commitment to cultural identity under a unique set of military, political, and capitalist circumstances. Co-written by Henzell and Trevor Rhone, this independent masterpiece was released in the States via Roger Corman in 1973. It soon became a midnight-movie cult favorite. Henzell's intuitive use of expressive roots reggae songs makes the perfect impact; songs blend together from recording studios, dance halls, and transistor radios. Jimmy Cliff plays Ivan Martin, a country boy who moves to Kingston to begin a career as a reggae singer. Ivan's mother sets him up with a local preacher (Basil Kane), whose female charge Elsa (Janey Bartley) attracts Ivan's romantic attention. A bicycle Ivan builds in order to court Elsa incites Ivan to violence when another man tries to keep it. A hard brush with the Jamaican justice system has a lasting effect on Ivan's sense of ambition. After his release, Ivan also discovers cold truths about the Kingston music monopoly presided over by local record producer Hilton (Bob Charlton) when he records an infectious song he's written. "The Harder They Come" correctly helped make Jimmy Cliff an international star--he contributed four songs to the film ("The Harder they Come," "Many Rivers to Cross," "You Can Get it if You Really Want it," and "Sitting in Limbo"). Cliff's charisma comes across with every bead of sweat that drips from his face despite his character's dead-end actions. "The Harder They Come" can also be viewed as a Blaxploitation film inasmuch as it gives clear expression and rebellious action to its ghetto-trapped subjects. The inextricable link between the film's music and its plotline leaves an indelible imprint on your ears and central nervous system. If you want to begin to understand reggae, watch "The Harder They Come."

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