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    DVD Video - Reviews [Harder They Come]


    Harder They Come

    Release Date:

    Studio: Criterion/Voyager
    Year: 1973
    Run Time: 98 minutes
    Rating: Unrated
    Starring: Jimmy Cliff, Carl Bradshaw, Janet Bartley
    Directed by: Perry Henzell
      Movie Summary: [Drama]

        Ivan, a rural Jamaican musician, journeys to the city of Kingston in search of fame and fortune. Pushed to desperate limits by shady record producers and corrupt cops, he finally achieve notariety - as a murderous outlaw.

    DVD Details
    • Widescreen: 1.66:1 (non-anamorphic), Color, Mono, Subtitles: English
    • Audio Commentary by Perry Henzell and Jimmy Cliff, Cast/Crew Biographies, Interview with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell
    See Full Disc Details...

    Reviewer: Rob Smentek


            "J amaican Cinema.” Two words that hardly roll of the tongue with ease. Odds are, if you mention Jamaican film to most people, they’ll talk about that John Candy movie about bobsledding or the movie where Denzel Washington had that awful Caribbean accent. In 1973, the island nation of Jamaica entered world cinema with a bang. Harder They Come is credited with being the “first movie from Jamaica.” It was an immediate success in its home country, eventually picked up for world distribution by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures at the height of “blaxploitation.” Since then, Harder They Come has been a perennial cult favorite among both music buffs and B-movie fans. British punk band the Clash even mentions the movie in their song “Guns of Brixton.”

    Harder They Come stars reggae star Jimmy Cliff as Ivan, a country boy who comes to Kingston to find fame and fortune. The plot is remarkably similar to a million Elvis Presley film opuses, but in this film … we get to see a society that is almost alien to America while seeing a pretty good movie. Ivan, like a million other folks, wants to be a music star. He has the tune, but can’t get a break. A ruthless mogul named Hilton runs the Kingston music scene, controlling the record stores, discos and radio programming. Poor and homeless, Ivan eventually gets work doing odd-jobs for a local Preacher. But after he begins an affair with the minister’s goddaughter, Ivan finds himself jobless. He talks his way into Hilton’s studio, and records a song (the title track). Ivan is paid $20. Still broke, Ivan enters the Jamaican underworld as a drug runner. Always impetuous, Ivan grows disillusioned with his take and refuses to pay Jose, the local drug kingpin, any “protection money.” Jose sets him up with the cops, and Ivan shoots his way out of being arrested. Now a cop-killer, Ivan becomes a local folk hero and his record shoots up the charts.

    According to the film’s director Perry Henzell, Harder They Come is loosely based on a true story. In the 1950’s, a man named Rhygin became a Jamaican outlaw hero. Harder They Come uses the story as a basic outline to create a movie that analyses the nature of celebrity, especially among the poor or downtrodden. Ivan is willing to become famous no matter the cost. Even after he kills several police officers, his main concern is that he hears his name and record on the radio. The theme is very powerful. Harder They Come runs several parallels to today’s music industry. Are Ivan’s goals much different than Eminem’s whose music is filled with the very same violence that is portrayed in the film? But for some reason, Eminem is a hell of a lot more repulsive than Ivan. There are many nice bits of foreshadowing that Henzell includes in the movie. Keep close attention to the pop culture that consistently surrounds Ivan.

    While Jimmy Cliff gives an effective acting performance as Ivan, the real star of the movie is the music. The soundtrack to Harder They Come is the definitive reggae collection. The album/film features a number of Jimmy Cliff classics including the title track, “Sitting in Limbo” and “You Can Get It If You Really Want” (which, essentially, is the theme to the movie). While the film’s audio track is in mono, the music sounds great, and in many cases, is better than the dialogue. The actors in Harder They Come speak in extremely thick Jamaican accents, which makes the much of the dialogue hard to hear. The fault doesn’t lie in the transfer, but in the poor recording utilized in making a low budget film. That said, Criterion does include subtitles that can be accessed with your remote.

    The Criterion Collection video transfer is very good, considering that Harder They Come was made almost 30 years ago on a shoestring budget. Admittedly, the opening credits look like they belong on the video of the Feldman bar mitzvah, but the rest of the movie is rather grain-free and clear. For years this film has only been available on the video black market, with bootlegs that lack in both picture and audio. It’s nice to see a quality release of this groundbreaking film. The film is letterboxed in a 1.66:1 ratio.

    The extras included on the Criterion disc are pretty great. The film’s commentary, with Cliff and Hanzell, is one of the more interesting narratives on DVD. They provide insight into the Jamaican and Rasta culture, which isn’t as widespread as many believe. In an age where Bob Marley provides the soundtrack to frat parties, it is important that people view the real Jamaica of the 70s… ravaged by poverty and desperation. An exceptionally powerful sequence has Cliff being whipped by police after a knife fight. Hanzell tells a number of interesting stories about getting the movie made, and why he hasn’t made one since. Also included on the disc is an interview with Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records. Island was instrumental in bringing reggae to a worldwide audience.

    Harder They Come is an important movie, not only as the first Jamaican made film, but also for its theme and story. While it is unmistakably a 1970’s film (with its sharp angles, extreme close-ups, and speeded up frames), it’s not without its message - a message about the things people will do for fame.


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    Individual Ratings
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    Ratings Based on Scale of 1 - 10 (10 being Best)

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