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"the harder they come" (1973) - perry henzell
posted on 21-Jul-2002 by anton
this is such a strange film, especially for someone not familiar with jamaica. what attracted me in it right away was its vibe, the defiance of poverty, the spirit of the people, something alien to the western world, but infinitely seductive in its quest for freedom, the different set of morals, the na´ve passion for glamour, fame, strangely pure in this almost childish way.

there were no professional actors used in the set (ivan was indeed the recording musician, and listening to his commentary, he is still very much in the same mindset) with a few exceptions, it was more of a national, patriotic movie, one of the first to be shot about Jamaicans by Jamaicans (everyone was watching American westerns back then, and it shows in ivan's behavior, his fascination with the genre, his desire to live out a live of an action hero - glorious, but inherently fatalistic).

the plot is quite interesting, with the character jumping fast into the world of crime and fame, quickly becoming a sort of a national hero, with the initial traces of raw and hard criminal musician, in the very basic, very true sense of the word. somehow it puts a smile on your face, but is quite sad at the same time. the whole concept of "outlaw musician" rings true, as opposed to current silliness of the whole hip-hop scene.

the banality of evil and the cruelty and yet naivetÚ of the main character make up for a strange balance, quite unsettling but also touching. it is interesting how many social issues were brought up, that were indeed the problem in those days (which was proved by the police trying to shut down the filming). starting from the corruption of church, the slums and shanty towns (it is interesting to see how women in those slums are always cleaning and sweeping) and overwhelming poverty, the corruption of police, the control of the music industry making a lot of money, without paying the musicians; yet another issue of interest is the media, and its glorification of crime - the whole warhol's 15 minutes of fame, a theme that keeps reoccurring in modern cinema.

ivan's world is so seductive in its rebellious, unrestrained freedom with its dignity, pride, ringing with sexuality and pure emotion; this is one of the obvious reasons for the western world being seduced by the rastafarian lifestyle, but somehow in this transition to the western culture something gets lost, and it does not ring true anymore. it is nice to see something this genuine, this original, made by real people, documented by the people themselves (which explains the gritty, dirty settings, not the tourist heaven of kingston). rastafarian escapist attitude perceives the outer world to be too cruel and too big to deal with, so they bypass it, wander off, adopting ganja to be the ultimate enlightening force, preferring to live the life that is bright, yet short.

this world is good in its contained small sense, the moment it becomes big (like the ganja trade that used to be more or less of a sport, now becoming the raging war, or the music industry, exploiting small musicians) it loses it purity, hence becoming yet another fact of the past, chased by many these days.

this film has aged remarkably well, although some of the action pieces and some of the acting seem a little bleak by today's standard, but the overall feel of it, the atmosphere are still as powerful. perhaps the notion of Jamaica as an alien, exotic world does contribute to that.

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