30 May 2013

The Harder They Come

The Harder They Come 1972
  • Director: Perry Henzell
  • Based on book: No
  • Cast: Jimmy Cliff, Janet Bartley, Carl Bradshaw, Ras Daniel Hartman, Basil Keane, Bob Charlton, Winston Stona
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • None of them
  • Why bought: An important groundbreaking movie
  • Seen: twice. Once in the early 70’s shown on Swedish TV shortly after we moved here. Now: March 8, 2013

      It’s hard to imagine the world without reggae and it’s hard to really remember what a big impact this film had on movie viewers – me included.  I remember a wow feeling – loved the music, liked the guy.
I’m not quite the same impressionable young newly awakened political creature I was in the 70’s but I was again impressed and gripped by this movie.  Even as we say, “Oh, Ivan, don’t do that,” it’s so clear why he does.  A country hick arriving in Kingston, robbed, turned away by his mother, cheated by a record mogul, entangled in the marijuana trade run by a crooked cop, brainwashed by macho violent super hero cowboy spaghetti westerns – of course he turns to violence and becomes a kind of folk hero outlaw.  But it’s not that simple.  While Ivan becomes more and more locked into his tragic hero role, his marijuana dealing friends, including the doting father (with probably the first and certainly among the most magnificent Rastafarian hair mass the world has ever seen) of a small sick boy, risk more and more to protect him from the law.
It’s painful to watch the stark presentation of a poverty-stricken and corrupt Jamaica. I wonder how many American tourists were in Jamaica the year this movie was made, enthusing about how wonderful Jamaica is. But it’s also a gripping portrait of a whole variety of people getting on with their lives the best they can with the help of music, dancing and each other.
Jimmy Cliff is outstanding. But the romanticized macho violence is very disturbing. Are movies like this one part of the reason we still have angry young men shooting (and bombing etc.) their way out of desperation? No, of course it’s not that simple.  And not to have portrayed war as violent and poverty as destructive would have falsified reality.

4* of 5

See Jimmy Cliff doing the song and clips from the movie on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGE4dnrPPZQ

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