The Harder they Come starring Jimmy Cliff. Directed by Perry Henzell. Cert ‘AA’. At present showing only at the Gaumont, Notting Hill Gate.
‘The Harder They Come’ Original Soundtrack Recording – Jimmy Cliff & Various Artists – Island LPS 9202
After an extremely successful run at the Brixton Classic, The Harder They Come is now showing at the Gaumont, Notting Hill Gate for an indefinite period.
Despite the fact that this is the first independent production to come out of Jamaica, that the cast is almost entirely made up of non-professional actors, and that, at the time of writing, it has no major distributor, the film has managed to attract considerable attention, especially amongst the most notable critics. And quite justifiably so.
Because the film is honest in its reflections of West Indian life and culture it succeeds on all levels. The depiction of the hardships of Jamaican life give it a political nature, whilst the unpretentiousness of the largely amateur cast allow it to be entertaining and at times very funny.
The story-line is simple but revealing. A young man, Ivan, (played by reggae singer Jimmy Cliff), comes from the country to ‘make it’ in the city. His ambition is to make a hit record but it’s a lot harder and tougher to achieve than he first imagined. He does, however, eventually succeed, but not until after he has been humiliated, exploited in every way, and is wanted by the police for murder.
The film is an angry comment on the social conditions that allow the exploitation and poverty that exist in Jamaica to take place, in what to an outsider is a ‘paradise isle’. Director Perry Henzell controls this anger though and doesn’t allow it to distract one from the purpose and the humour of the film. Also racial oppression is not brought in as being the aggressor, for throughout the film we are shown that black man exploits black man, and the hero, Ivan, is completely materialistic in his outlook on life.
The soundtrack of the film contains the best reggae music I have ever heard. The distinctiveness and vitality of this music, now that we have a chance to hear it well recorded (in stereo), must surely mean that a lot more people will become aware of yet another important musical form. The soundtrack has recently been released by Island records, who also handle the film in this country.
Jimmy Cliff contributes a number of tracks, including the title track, The Harder They Come. This song as a single has already been a huge hit in Jamaica and amongst the West Indian community in this country. Cliff composed this song, as he did all the material he sings on this soundtrack. Another particularly good track by him is Many Rivers To Cross, which has the best lyrics I have heard since Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and Bill Wither’s Lean on Me. The rest of the soundtrack is made up with songs from other popular reggae entertainers such as The Maytals and Desmond Dekker.
If you live in London it is well worth the journey to Notting Hill Gate to see this film. But if that’s not possible, at least hear the soundtrack album. Both are good unpretentious entertainment, and the film and lyrics of the songs provide a much needed insight into West Indian life. Don’t bother to see the new Shaft movie, that’s just another way the white man has learnt to exploit the black man; see something that is honest about one form of black culture.