Movies, like pop music, often seem more momentous in the context of their times. That's especially true in the case of The Harder They Come; the film, which first screened in the U.S. in 1973, hit at a time when reggae music was not yet a big part of the popular vernacular. With a story set in Jamaican shanty towns and steeped in the ganja-shaded rasta culture that later became a stereotype, the movie is driven by its soundtrack, and especially the sweet, reedy, hopeful voice of its star, Jimmy Cliff.
Cliff plays Ivanhoe Martin, a poor man with a gift for singing and a dream of fame. The plot is spotty and a little bit comic book, but the scenery is lush and the verité shots of urban life set the mood.
Given a chance to record a song, Martin is cheated by the studio and goes underground as a violent criminal, becoming an unlikely folk hero among the poor of West Kingston. At the end, he's on the run as the strains of his record are heard all through the streets, and -- apologies for the spoiler -- things will not end well for him.
Susan Froyd, in another life, toiled for a few years in some of Denver's most beloved and belated repertory cinemas. She has also seen a lot of movies over a lot of years. In this weekly series, she'll recommend forgotten films, classics, cult favorites and other dusty reels of celluloid from the past. You might like it.
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