Few soundtracks have changed the face of popular music more than the one for The Harder They Come, which single-handedly put reggae on the map, paving the way for Bob Marley‘s breakthrough album a year later.
Billed as “Jamaica’s very first feature-length film”, it shouldered the responsibility of introducing the country to a world so unfamiliar with Jamaica that it is one of the few English-language films where English subtitles were deemed necessary.
While it was ultimately the songs – You Can Get It If You Really Want, Many Rivers To Cross, Pressure Drop and the title track (among others) – that established the film’s reputation, The Harder They Come remains a powerful testament to their deeper cultural meaning.
The film is a social commentary, political manifesto and comedy all rolled into one. Singer/songwriter Jimmy Cliff stars as Ivan Martin – a young country boy who arrives in Kingston after the death of his grandmother with little money and no prospects, determined to be a famous musician.
Once there, he faces corruption at every turn, from a monopolistic producer who will only pay him $20 per song, to a missionary church that peddles “The Word”, and a corrupt police force.
Desperation tempts him into the ganja trade and he finally achieves notoriety by shooting a few cops in self-defence. He goes underground – while his single climbs to the top of the charts – and is ultimately hunted down and shot.
Ivan’s rise to fame begins to parallel that of Rhygin, a famous Jamaican gunman of the 1940s and he begins to imagine himself a classic anti-hero – a kind of spaghetti western gunman.
Shot in documentary style, the camera stays tuned to the shantytown squalor of the Kingston slums where people are shown sifting through beachside garbage heaps, looking for scraps of food.
Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin
Ras Daniel Hartman
Detective Ray Jones
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