Are you really a reggae fan if you don’t know The Harder They Come? We talked about this a few days ago, and I had to admit that I’m hardly an expert. But, damn, talk about a stone cold classic. It’s a rare phenomenon when the soundtrack album for a low-budget foreign movie becomes on of the best albums of all time. (Or any movie soundtrack, not for lack of trying by Gen X hipster film directors.) I haven’t listened to this record in a criminally long time, and I’m glad that I didn’t forget.
I recommend that you watch The Harder They Come. It’s a classic. Not because of the story it tells. The movie is incoherent and I had trouble making sense of the actors’ accents. What made the film a hit in 1972 and what makes it still worthy today, is that is showed a world most American had never seen before. The bustle, hardship, violence, and vitality of life in Jamaica was novel then and it’s still novel now. It was vivid and it still feels authentic. Jamaica has become a major tourist destination, thanks in part to the worldwide popularity of its music, but outside of the fancy beach resorts, life hasn’t changed all that much since The Harder They Come was filmed. The poor neighborhoods of Kingston are still often torn by violence, and many gifted young men have turned, tragically, to crime, just like Jimmy Cliff’s character in the movie. What the people still turn to for solace and self-expression is the music. The music is what makes The Harder They Come a great movie – it’s not just a soundtrack, it’s part of the story, part of the culture, part of what keeps people alive.