The Harder They Come, Movie by Perry Henzell
The connection between Jakes, Jamaica and the classic cult film, The Harder They Come? Justine Henzell explains
orty-five years ago, a young filmmaker, named Perry Henzell, knew he had to make a decision. Would he make his first film for a local audience, or for the rest of the world? A passionate nationalist, that filmmaker, who was my father, made the conscious choice that The Harder They Come would be for Jamaicans, using the Jamaican vernacular, music, cast and crew. It was a career risk, he realized, as little was known about Jamaica past our outstanding beaches, Olympic athletes and beauty queens.
After three years, four different shoots with three different cinematographers, countless script rewrites, numerous edits and editors, The Harder They Come had its historic premiere at the Carib Theatre in Kingston. Perry had overwhelmingly achieved his goal. Jamaicans heard and saw themselves on the big screen; they laughed and shouted for the entire 100 minutes and came to see the film in record numbers, resulting in riots around the cinema.
Now came the hard part. Would anyone outside the island care about the story of a country “bwoy” come to town to fulfill his dream of becoming a singer, who turns to a life of crime when he sees no other options and eventually becomes a folk hero outlaw? Sure, that theme had been used in Westerns, but in those films no subtitles were needed to decipher patois and the actors looked like the audience.
In Jamaica, reggae had emerged from the earlier sounds of ska and rocksteady to be the dominant rhythm of the 70s and Chris Blackwell had signed Bob Marley and the Wailers to Island Records. Their now-classic albums Catch a Fire, Burnin’, Natty Dread, Rastaman Vibration and Exoduswere all released between 1973 and 1978. Where the movie played, the Wailers performed and the one-two cultural punch was impossible to resist. The Harder They Come has become a bona fide cult classic and is universally acknowledged as the great Jamaican film.
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