Recently we reviewed a documentary that features 6 Midnight Movies, and one of them was The Harder They Come. I challenge you to watch this film without tapping your foot! It has a catchy groove to it, and represents a milestone in Jamaican cinema, since it was the first film ever produced there.
This film was Perry Henzell’s directional debut, and became most popular due to it’s soundtrack. It has been reported that after it’s success, it was screened at midnight on weekends for 6 years straight in New York, establishing a strong ‘cult’ following, making it a Cult Classic. This film basically introduced Reggae music to the rest of the world!
Movies and Music are my two artistic loves. It isn’t often that there two mediums combine to form something powerful and meaningful. There are numerous examples of great films about music, but this film is not about music, but rather music is used to portray the Jamaican spirit. It brings the Jamaican ideaology to life, whilst at the same time using realism to portray the sad reality of poverty and the unjust use of power and authority by those that have positions of influence. This is a story about life, and dreams. It’s a film about a man who chooses to keep his dreams alive, at all costs! Cleverly too, this film knowns when not to use music.
The main star is played by Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff. When Jimmy Cliff sings in this film, you really feel the passion he has for his art form, and it’s this passion that elevates the film to classic status. Needless to say this film made Jimmy Cliff’s career international, so international that, only 3 years after it’s release, he sung live, on the first season of Saturday Night Live, episode 12, to be exact. “I can see clearly now the rain is gone..” I sing this song sometimes, privately, of course, it’s catchy, it’s uplifting. The Harder They Come is exactly that, catchy and ironically uplifting. Plus Jimmy delivers a truly raw performance!
This film itself has moments of innovation, particularly a love scene, the editing and camera angles are quite unique, not what we are accustomed to. There is uncomfortable intimacy portrayed here, making the scene all that more powerful and meaningful. Perhaps my only criticism of this film is that Jimmy Cliff’s character Ivan Martin is very much a vague character. There is an opaque mystery about him, that lingers. Regardless this film will make you feel, the music, the introduction to Jamaica, the dancing, the rebelliousness of it!
It wouldn’t be long before Reggae swept the world, it’s influence ever so present in culture and music even today. This post wants to celebrate bold visionary Perry Henzell for opening the doors to Jamaica, and Jimmy Cliff for giving us energising music, forever forged into media. So, accept the dare to watch this film without tapping your foot?
TRIVIA COOKIES: There are reports of a remake. Perry Henzell’s daughter Justine Henzell is reported to be overseeing the project. Other rumours include that Jimmy Cliff will be back.
This story is inspired by real-life criminal Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin. There are similarities to the story, although the musical aspect was not part of the real life story it got it’s inspiration from. This poster dates back to 1948.