• The Harder They Come (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: August 20th, 2019.
    Director: Perry Henzell
    Cast: Jimmy Cliff, Janet Bartley, Carl Bradshaw, Ras Daniel Hartman, Basil Keane, Leslie Kong
    Year: 1972
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    The Harder They Come – Movie Review:

    Directed by Perry Henzell in 1972, The Harder They Come follows the story of a young Jamaican man named Ivanhoe "Ivan" Martin (Jimmy Cliff). When the film begins, he’s out of work and looking for a job. When his grandmother passes away, he heads to Kingston to live with his mother. Here he befriends a man named Jose (Carl Bradshaw) and, after the pair takes in a theatrical screening of Sergio Corbucci’s Django, Ivan eventually finds a job working for a preacher (Basil Keane). When he manages to repair a bicycle and make it work again, he uses that to do some work for a record producer (Leslie Kong), which gets him into hot water with the priest. When the priest gives Ivan’s bike away, he gets into a fight and Ivan winds up cutting the older man and charged and then literally whipped for his crime.

    Soon enough, Ivan talks the record producer into letting him record a song entitled ‘The Harder They Come.’ It works, but Ivan is only paid twenty bucks for the work while the producer rakes in the rest of the money. Ivan, however, wants to be famous and he just might have the ambition needed to pull that off. When Jose offers Ivan a chance to work in the burgeoning marijuana industry, he takes the job but things soon sour between he and Jose, who rats Ivan out to the cops. When a cop stops Ivan, he freaks out and shoots him. Things go from bad to worse for Ivan when, after spending a night with a woman in a hotel, the cops arrive and surround him, leading to a shootout. With the cops chasing Ivan, he hopes his drug dealer friends will help him out, but – and they do, for a while… until the cops start closing in. As Ivan’s infamy grows, his single is re-released and, due to the news, becomes a smash hit. Ivan is savvy enough to exploit his fame – but we all know this won’t last forever.

    Loosely based on the real-life exploits of a Jamaican criminal named Ivanhoe Martin, dubbed as Rhyging during his heyday, The Harder They Come was a hit in its homeland. This was a rare opportunity for the island’s population to see their culture depicted on the big screen, and the presence of Reggae star Jimmy Cliff in the lead role helped make the film’s soundtrack equally popular. Though the film failed to find much of an audience in its 1973 theatrical release, it did find an audience outside of Jamaica over time, and rightly so. While it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how this is all going to end, it’s a well-made and fast paced picture that provides plenty of entertainment in addition to an interesting time capsule of early seventies Jamaican culture.

    More than just a standard rise and fall/gangster story, the film makes some interesting commentary on the state of Jamaica’s impoverished citizens and the options offered them in life, as well as how the music industry is willing and able to exploit many of the artists that make it as profitable as it is. There’s some intelligence behind all of this, and Henzell does a fine job balancing this with the action and tension inherent in the storyline. The fact that it was clearly made on a very modest budget doesn’t matter, it gives the picture a gritty authenticity that actually winds up working quite well in its favor. It’s rough around the edges, but in the context of the story being told, had this been a more polished affair it wouldn’t have been as effective or as unique.

    The performances are solid as well. The supporting players all do fine work while Cliffs proves to be a bit of a natural in front of the camera. As his character arc shifts during the course of the movie he goes from likeable to criminal and he plays both sides of this part well. Reggae fans will also appreciate seeing Prince Buster show up in a small part as a DJ at a party.

    The Harder They Come – Blu-ray Review:

    The Harder They Come is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.78.1 fullframe, the film’s original aspect ratio. Taken from a new 4k scan of the original 16mm negative, the transfer retains the film’s gritty, grainy look – just as it should. Detail, however, is pretty strong so long as you’re familiar with the film’s origins and how it’s always looked. This is never going to be a reference quality, pristine looking film – but this transfer is a damn sight better than the DVD edition that was released years back. There’s plenty of texture here and colors look good. There’s decent depth to the picture as well. All in all, fans should be quite pleased.

    Audio options for the feature include a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono Master Audio track and a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. The film is spoken entirely in Jamaican patois so the English subtitles definitely come in handy. There’s a bit of mild hiss in a few spots but otherwise, no complaints. As you’d hope, the soundtrack has pretty solid range, it sounds quite nice, while the levels remain properly balanced throughout. Again, there’s a nice upgrade here over past editions, particularly in terms of clarity and balance. The 2.0 mix is the more authentic of the two, of course, while the 5.1 mix opens things up mostly in regards to the music, keeping the dialogue up front.

    Extras are spread across the three discs in the set as follows.

    Disc One – The Harder They Come:

    Extras start off with a new audio commentary with author David Katz, the man who wrote Jimmy Cliff: An Unauthorized Biography. Katz clearly knows his stuff and he does an excellent job of taking us through Cliff’s life and times as well as elaborating on the importance of this film to the musician’s career. There’s a lot of biographical info here not just in regards to Cliff, but for Henzell and quite a few of the other participants as well. The track doesn’t just focus on the music but it also gives up a lot of great info on Jamaican culture, the locations used, Henzell’s background, how the film was received and lots, lots more.

    Shout! Factory also supplies some archival supplements hear, starting with the ten-minute One And All: The Phenomenon Of The Harder They Come. Here, by way of interviews with Reggae historian Roger Steffens, The Doors’ drummer John Densmore in addition to Henzell and Cliff we learn of the picture’s continuing influence and impact and the effect that it had on popularizing reggae around the world.

    Also worth checking out is the fifty-two-minute Hard Road To Travel: The Making Of The Harder They Come, which is made up of interviews with Henzell, production assistant/actress Beverly Manley, Island Records’ Chris Blackwell, writer Trevor Rhone and a few others. Directed by Chris Browne, this is quite an interesting piece that examines the history of the film, exploring where the ideas came from, what it was like making the picture, the importance of Cliff’s presence in the film and more.

    Moving right along, we get a selection of vintage interviews starting with a nine-minute piece wherein Jimmy Cliff takes questions about how he got involved in the picture, what it was like on set, his musical and religious beliefs and more. Up next, Arthur Gorson, who was a friend of the director, spends seven-minutes talking about how he met him while working on The Harder They Come and what came of their time together. In an eleven-minute piece, director Perry Henzell speaks about writing a screenplay for a sequel to the film, following up the original film with No Place Like Home, and his views on Jamaica’s film scene and why he was so determined to shoot all of his projects in his homeland. Director of photography David MacDonald spends just shy of forty-minutes talking about his experiences on the film, what it was like working with Henzell, shooting on location in Jamaica, how and why the production ran out of money and quite a bit more. The last vintage interview is a thirty-one-minute piece with line producer Yvonne Brewster who speaks quite candidly about how she get involved with the film, the importance of bringing Cliff into the project, how she got along with Henzell and plenty more.

    Rounding out the extras on the first disc is the four-minute The Harder They Come music video featuring Jimmy Cliff, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    Disc Two – No Place Like Home:

    The second disc in the set contains Henzell’s second feature, No Place Like Home, also taken from a restoration of the original 16mm film elements. In this picture, an American film producer from NYC named Susan (Susan O’Meara) travels to Jamaica to shoot a shampoo commercial. At first, this seems like pretty much any other job she’s take, but circumstances soon arise and Susan soon becomes almost entirely immersed in the island’s unique history and culture. As her story plays out, we see how her experiences shape her views. She becomes romantically involved with a Jamaican man named Carl (Carl Bradshaw) and quickly becomes aware of the effects of corruption and the island’s tourism industry. Interestingly enough, P.J. Soles and Grace Jones both appear in the film. The picture’s rocky history (it was started in the seventies, resurrected in the eighties and not released until the two thousands) results in a pretty uneven picture but it features some genuinely beautiful imagery. Had it been finished in a more reasonable time frame it probably would have worked out better than it did and while this is a calmer, gentler film than the feature attraction, there’s still some interesting socio-political commentary worked in here and it is definitely worth a watch.

    The 1080p high definition presentation is solid. A bit rough around the edges in spots, sure, but given its history you can’t complain – it’s pretty amazing we’re getting to see this at all. Again, DTS-HD tracks are provided in 2.0 Mono and 5.1 with optional English subtitles. Accompanying the film is a commentary track with producer David Garonzik, art director Sally Henzell, still photographer Cookie Kinkaed, and executive producer Arthur Gorson. It’s a very valuable discussion that sheds a lot of light on the film’s troubled production history, how and why Perry Henzell made this his next film after The Harder They Come, the locations that were used, the themes that it explores and lots more.

    Also new to this release is the twenty-five-minute Perry Henzell: A Filmmaker’s Odyssey. In this short film we learn what went into finishing No Place Like Home after getting a quick refresher on the history of The Harder They Come. Here various participants discuss how Henzell originally started the project in 1973, how he tried to get it going again in the early eighties and how, after the negative went missing in action, projectionist Dave Garonzik eventually learned of the film and led a successful search for the elements which led to a restoration of the picture. Those with an affinity for film archeology should definitely appreciate this piece.

    Complementing that piece is Rise Up From The Cutting Room Floor, a quick five-minute piece that details what all was involved in the pretty extensive restoration that was required to bring No Place Like Home into the condition it is in this presentation.

    Rounding out the extras on the second disc are the film’s original theatrical trailer, a few songs from the movie (Soles’ original vocal track for World Full Of Beauty and an acoustic guitar demo from Steven Soles) menus and chapter selection.

    Disc Three – Bonus Disc:

    The third disc in this massive set includes a host of exclusive featurettes that further explore The Harder They Come and Henzell’s legacy, starting with Filmin’ In The Gully: The Anatomy Of Three Scenes. In this piece, The Harder They Come’s cinematographer Franklyn “Chappy” St. Juste spends just over thirteen-minutes talking about how he got hired for the shoot, what it was like on set, shooting on super 16mm, and problems that he and the others ran into on the production.

    Duppies In The Control Room: Dynamic Sounds Studios Then And Now is an eleven-minute piece wherein Errol Gayle guides us on a tour of the sound studio used in the film, it’s an interesting segment. In 10A: Jamaica’s Film Yard, Sally Henzell gives us a thirteen-minute guided tour of Henzell’s home in Kingston, which wound up being ground zero for the shoot. Alongside Sally Henzell this piece also contains input from Jason Henzell, Maxine Walters, Justine Henzell and more.

    A Conversation With Sir Ridley Scott is a twenty-five-minute piece that is exactly what the title implies – Scott talking about how he first met Perry Henzell, the man’s early work doing commercial shoots, his own thoughts on Jamaican culture and society, his thoughts on Henzell’s filmmaking abilities and a fair bit more.

    Live From The Reggae Awards is twelve-minutes of interviews shot on the red carpet with stars of the Jamaican music industry wherein they pay tribute and wax nostalgic on Perry Henzell and The Harder They Come’s influence on their music scene.

    Out Of Many One Filmmaker: The Disciples Of Perry Henzell is over sixty-two-minutes’ worth of interviews with directors Storm Saulter, Rass Kassa, Chris Browne and producer Maxine Walters in which the participants explore their memories of Henzell and talk about the importance of his landmark film. Lots of talk here not just about Henzell’s influence but of their thoughts on the picture, Cliff’s work, the music and lots more.

    Everyone A Star: The Original Cast is a fifty-minute featurette that includes input from actors P.J. Soles, Carl Bradshaw and Winston Stona on what it was like to be directed by Henzell, their thoughts on his abilities, their experiences on set and their thoughts on the films that they performed in for him.

    Big Heap Of Help: The Original Support Team interviews with Perry’s first personal assistant Beverley Manley, assistant director Bobby Russell and actor Winston Stona. Here, over the course of forty-eight-minutes, they offer more thoughts on what it was like to collaborate on projects with Henzell. In Roots: The Family Henzell we spend time with Perry’s family members Sally, Justine and Jason Henzell. In this forty-six-minute piece we get a feel for what he was like at home, rather than on the set, and learn how he was as a husband and father to his wife and two kids.

    How Perry Rocked The World is sixty-minutes of interviews with “Native” Wayne Jobson, historian Chris Salewicz, and composer Steven Soles that cover Henzell’s part in bringing reggae to the world and his influence on musical culture not just in Jamaica but around the globe.

    Last but not least, disc three finishes up with the ninety-second The Legacy Of Perry Henzell: A Story Of Jamaican Cinema, which is a nice little closing credits style piece with some parting thoughts from a few of the different interviewees featured on this disc.

    The Harder They Come – The Final Word:

    Shout! Factory’s three-disc special edition Blu-ray release of The Harder They Come is absolutely stacked and it really does justice to the film and its legacy. The presentation is as strong as the elements will likely allow for and the extras are plentiful and interesting. Highly recommended, this package should be considered essential.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Harder They Come Blu-ray screen caps!