The Harder They Come

Must-See Cinema! 40th Anniversary Reissue!

Poster image for The Harder They ComePremiering one year after the release of Shaft and one year before Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Catch A Fire dropped, Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come combined blaxploitation fantasies with developing-world realities and in the process, brought reggae music to the world. The first feature-length film from Jamaica – which at the time of release had been an independent country for only 10 years – Henzell’s debut is the definitive postcolonial cult-movie musical. Raw and rough, The Harder They Come mixes vérité footage of Kingston privation (shacks, shanties) and exultation (rapt moviegoers taking in a western, swaying-to-the-spirit church attendees) with a rude-boy bildungsroman.

Played by Jimmy Cliff, who had released four albums by the time of his acting debut in THTC, Ivan is introduced as a naif on a bus in Kingston. Although the bumpkin is robbed of everything within his first hours in the capital, he still holds out hope he can make it big as a singer. Peacocking in apple caps, skintight tees, elaborately patterned rayon shirts, and snug, pinstriped trousers (Cliff’s sartorial style in the film is almost as iconic as its soundtrack, electrifying nuggets made by various artists between 1967 and 1972), Ivan finally persuades the corrupt music tycoon Hilton (Bob Charlton) to give him some time in the recording studio.

His single – the film’s infectious, mercenary title track (‘So as sure as the sun will shine/I’m gonna get my share now of what’s mine’) – becomes a smash, for which Ivan receives only $20. ‘Who’s makin’ all the money?’ he asks after being stiffed once again during his short career as a pot dealer. Gunning down some cops – many involved in the ganja trade – Ivan lams it, his record in constant rotation, and his legend sealed. 

– Melissa Anderson, The Village Voice

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