Blu-ray Review: The Harder They Come (Collector’s Edition)



Perry Henzell experienced both ends of the spectrum of an independent filmmaker. His first feature film The Harder They Came was a worldwide phenmon that played for years on screens. Audiences wanted to see his film that wasn’t merely shot in Jamaica, but made by Jamaicans. This wasn’t Hollywood. This was real island life captured on film and not backlot dressed up to look island-ish. The movie was a hit and would be a staple of the midnight movie circuit. Although a few theaters played it on weekend afternoons since there was a chance that stoned audience members might pass out and not leave until the next morning. Henzell didn’t wait for Hollywood studios to bust down his door. He went into production on a second film about people in Jamaica. No Place Like Home was focused on a woman from New York who gets lost in the island life while making a commercial It didn’t even have a chance to play theaters. After overcoming budget and scheduling issues, the negative vanished from the film lab in New York City. But through a lot of sleuthing, the lost film has been finished. Now both films have been joined together on The Harder They Come: Collector’s Edition. This boxset is a celebration of Jamaica and Henzell’s life.

The Harder They Come opens up Ivan (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jimmy Cliff) riding down from the mountainous countryside to the port city of Kingston. His good nature gets the best of him upon arrival when a local kindly steals all his worldly possessions. Ivan visits his mother to give her the sad news that the grandmother has died. He intends to stay in the city and not go home. She isn’t the most supportive in his choice. Things are tougher than they appear in the city. He learns this fast when he goes job hunting and finds nothing good waiting for him. He works for a church, but the preacher doesn’t appreciate it when Ivan wants to work on is own music. Even the local music producer is a jerk to Ivan. Ivan records the song “The Harder They Come,” but only offers a little money to put the music out on a 45 single. This lack of income finally makes Ivan part of a marijuana smuggling operation. When he complains to his connection about certain elements, the drug dealer narcs Ivan out to the cops. This leads to a very serious incident which puts Ivan on the run and his single being a major hit. Ivan feels used by everyone around him.

The film was shot on 16mm film with a small camera so we really follow Ivan around Kingstown. The camera captures the scenic elements from the tourism commercials to the rather iffy parts of town. It’s a full portrait of island life that Ivan roams around. The chases with the cops seem very immediate. Jimmy Cliff is truly magnetic on the screen drawing you in with both his performance and is music that also includes “You Can Get It If You Really Want” and “Many Rivers to Cross.” He’s perfect in the role. The people around him speak so naturally in not a screenwriter’s idea of how they talk on the island. It’s a drama, but you’re brought into the middle of this culture and the action. This is part of why the film connected with audiences.

No Place Like Home was shot shortly after The Harder They Come to give another perspective on the island. Susan (Susan O’Meara) has come to Jamaica as part of a film crew shooting a commercial. P.J. Soles (Stripes) is the focus of the advertisement as both the model and singer of the jingle. She gets frustrated at the process and vanishes as they’re wrapping up. Susan goes to look for her with local guide Carl Bradshaw (The Harder They Come). She learns a lot more about the people than she was getting at the resort. Grace Jones (A View To A Kill) shows up as a local gal. Can Susan return to her normal life after getting to experience so much of the island and Carl?

The making of the film turned into a nightmare for Henzell as he kept having to raise money to shoot more parts of the semi-improved film. When he finally had everything going to finish the film, the negative had vanished from the film lab. It was decades until more elements were found to create the film that is included here. If you watch the film today, you’d imagine the movie would be a flop in this time of Marvel Superheroes and Disney Live Action remakes. But in the 1980s, this movie would have done well on the art house circuit that had films of this tone coming from Australia. Susan’s tale of roaming this paradise and getting a real view would have connected at that time. So don’t watch with today’s eyes.

The Harder They Come: Collector’s Edition is truly a celebration of Perry Henzell and his love for his home. He created two movies about Jamaica that didn’t just use the island as an exotic backdrop for a Hollywood schmaltz. He gave us a sense of why he didn’t run off to Hollywood. The was where the stories he wanted to capture on film took place. He didn’t need to sit in an office on the backlot of Universal pitching projects and staring at a postcard of his homeland. It’s a shame that his second film took so long, but it’s finally here.

The video is 1.66:1 anamorphic for The Harder They Come and 1.85:1 anamorphic for No Place Like Home. The transfer for The Harder They Come is a 4K scan from the original negative. But since it was shot in 16mm, it’s slightly fuzzy. It’s still the best it’s ever looked. No Place Like Home is from various elements. Odds are that when you watch the films, you might be a little fuzzy too. The audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1 to give a sense of the island life around your living room. It does spread out Jimmy Cliff’s songs. There’s also the original mono mix. No Place Like Home is only DTS-HD MA mono. Both movies are subtitled.

DISC 1: THE HARDER THEY COME

Audio Commentary With Author David Katz (Jimmy Cliff: An Unauthorized Biography) gets into elements of the production and the impact the film had in introducing the world to views of Jamaica.

One And All: The Phenomenon Of The Harder They Come (10:09) explores how the film brought Reggae and the life in Jamaica to movie audiences. John Densmore of The Doors expresses the impact the film had on him and audiences. They talk about the wild gunman from decades earlier that inspired part of the film. There’s vintage interviews with Jimmy Cliff and Perry Henzell. The film played for years in Boston as a Saturday matinee.

Hard Road To Travel: The Making Of The Harder They Come (52:01) goes deep into the film. Perry Henzell talks about how the film was the spirit of the city as seen through a country boy. He speaks of how the transistor radio lured the folks from the countries into the city with big promises. Henzell had set himself up in the commercial world. But he wanted to do a feature film. The documentary goes into who got casted and the worldwide impact.

Vintage Interviews With Actor Jimmy Cliff (9:40), Producer Arthur Gorson (7:26) and Director Perry Henzell (10:54). Jimmy Cliff is talking in 1986 from Los Angeles. Gorson opens his talk with a Red Stripe beer. He talks of getting to produce a record at Dynamic Sounds. He speaks of how the song and movie dominated life in Kingston. Perry talks about working on the sequel of The Harder They Come that explores modern island life. They talk about how the ending of the original won’t mess up with the return of Ivan.

Interview With Director Of Photography David MacDonald (39:27) has him discuss having to capture the real moments in Jamaica. The film wasn’t made for the world market. Perry wanted to make a film aimed at Jamaicans.

Interview With Line Producer Yvonne Brewster (31:21) has her describe going from being a high school teacher to part of the movie crew. She did voices for Perry’s commercials.

“The Harder They Come” Music Video (3:32) mixes clips from the films including Jimmy Cliff recording the song in the studio.

Still Gallery (7:29) includes lots of snapshots from when they were filming to get a sense of the landscape.

DISC 2: NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Audio Commentary With Sally Henzell, David Garonzik, Cookie Kinkaed, And Arthur Gorson has them speak about the production and what it took to finally finish the film.

“Perry Henzell: A Filmmaker’s Odyssey” (25:00) points out how world cinema was changing in the late 60s and early 70s. This charts what happened as Henzell made his follow up to The Harder They Come. No Place Like Home would have all the horrifying issues a filmmaker stays up all night fearing. He shot the movie in Super 16 without much of a script. He just wanted it to be spontaneous and capturing island life. This technique led to a lot of shutdowns and raising additional cash for the budget until the negative vanished from the lab in New York City.

Rise Up From The Cutting Room Floor – The Restoration Of No Place Like Home (4:56) gets into how they finally found various elements and used a cut work print to match the film up.

P.J. Soles Original Vocal Track (1:56) and Original Acoustic Guitar Demo By Steven Soles (3:29) for the song “World Full Of Beauty” (1:56) is the song from the commercial inside the movie. P.J. would also sing on the soundtrack of Rock and Roll High School.

Theatrical Trailer (3:21) teases the film that was rescued from the vault.

DISC 3: BONUS DISC – The Legacy Of Perry Henzell: A Story Of Jamaican Cinema
Filmin’ In The Gully – Anatomy Of Three Scenes – With Cinematographer Franklyn “Chappy” St. Juste (13:27) has him discuss how there wasn’t a script show to him. He discusses why they had to reshoot the first three reels of The Harder They Come because of a 16mm and Super16 mix up.

Duppies In The Control Room – Dynamic Sounds Studios Then And Now (11:19) opens with Keith Richards talking about coming to Dynamic Sounds to record Goats Head Soup. He decided to buy a house on the island. The studios are still standing, but shutdown in 2015. We do get a tour of the place which is still full of master tapes.

10A – Jamaica’s Film Yard – The Story Of Perry Henzell’s Kingston Home And Production Center (13:31) features Sally Henzell, Jason Henzell, Justine Henzell and others talking about where Perry worked. He converted his house into a post-production center so he could make commercials there. It was air conditioned.

A Conversation With Sir Ridley Scott (24:26) includes him recounting how he’s go down to the island and shoot commercials using Perry’s help. He used a tire swing in Perry’s yard as his resting spot.

Out Of Many: One Filmmaker (60:45) digs into the Disciples Of Perry Henzell. Perry gave support to a lot of local filmmakers who didn’t need to fly off to UCLA to learn the skills. He hosted Jamaica’s Corman University.

Everyone A Star: The Original Cast (48:57) catches up with the actors including P.J. Soles, Carl Bradshaw and Winston Stona.

Big Heap Of Help: The Original Supporting Team (48:09) interviews Perry’s Personal Assistant Beverly Manley and others that allowed him to work. Manley had shown up to be a temp replacement for a secretary and Perry didn’t want her to leave.

Roots: The Family Henzell (46:05) includes interviews With Sally Henzell, Justine Henzell, and Jason Henzell. There’s plenty of talk about growing up with a dad who turned their home into a filmmaking compound.

How Perry Rocked The World (59:11) goes into the impact of the filmmaker and The Harder They Come. Interviews include historian Chris Salewicz, composer Steven Soles, and others.

Live From The Reggae Awards (11:52) interviews conducted at The Jaria Awards, Kingston’s Annual Music Awards Show. The movie has the same impact as Scarface at a rap award show except the musicians are happy that this is a film made by Jamaicans and not merely Hollywood using them as a backdrop.

Shout! Factory presents The Harder They Come: Collector’s Edition. Directed by Perry Henzell. Screenplay by: Perry Henzell, Trevor D. Rhone. Starring: Jimmy Cliff, Carl Bradshaw & Janet Bartley. Rated: R. Running Time: 109 minutes. Released: August 20, 2019

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