Stuart Samuels' documentary Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream screens this weekend at the Northwest Film Center, offering insights into the history surrounding six cult classics (see listing, page 61). One of the films profiled in Samuels' documentary is Perry Henzell's seminal 1972 film The Harder They Come. The soundtrack is in frequent rotation on my CD player, but up until about a month ago, I hadn't seen the film in close to 10 years. Watching it for the first time in so long, I rediscovered what an amazing work of world cinema it is.
Reggae star Jimmy Cliff is Ivan, a young man who journeys from the country to the big city, only to meet hardship and adversity. His struggle for survival eventually leads to a life of crime, transforming the aspiring singer into an outlaw folk hero. An international counterpart to Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, The Harder They Come is a bare-bones, rough-around-the-edges tale of a classic antihero standing up to a system that has systematically oppressed him. In the world of Henzell's film, law enforcement, the church and big business (represented by an unscrupulous music producer) are hopelessly corrupt, forcing the innocent to become criminals in order to survive.
Regarded primarily as a cult film and remembered more for its incredible soundtrack (one of the best of all time), The Harder They Come ranks among other great films of that era, including Kinji Fukasaku's Street Mobster and Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets.