Jimmy Cliff Nails The Harder They Come

Reggae’s proselytizing epiphany looks and sounds even better in this new restoration of the classic music film.

Jimmy Cliff Nails The Harder They Come

IT’S ONE OF THOSE moments when time stops. 1972’s reggae-rife opus The Harder They Come takes pride of place amidst MOJO’s list of 100 Greatest Music Movies, but the scene where Jimmy Cliff’s rudeboy rocker Ivanvoe “Ivan” Martin cuts the film’s title track under the calculating gaze of Beverley’s All-Stars, a Leslie Kong simulacrum and actor Bob Charlton – playing intimidating producer “Hilton” – is surely Top 5 in terms of music moments captured on film. Hilton gets his notorious 20 dollars-worth, plus change, and so do we, every time.

The clip epitomizes The Harder They Come’s groundbreaking blend of fact into fiction, authentic JA experience and echt musical performances enhancing the verité of the late Perry Henzell’s visceral direction, animated by an eagerness to improvise. Cliff/Martin’s struggle to make it, in music or in crime – whichever will fill his belly – feels aptly life-and-death, and the music-making scenes have the same edge-of-the-seat immediacy.

This month sees a high definition audio-visual restoration of the film enjoy a digital release, available from thehardertheycome.com and iTunes. Most of us will have experienced it in degraded VHS form, and still been blown away, but the work of post-production supervisor Scott Nabat in restoring the film to something like its original glory – removing mildew from its first four minutes, finding and restoring 20 missing shots, cleaning the audio track of hiss and distortion – gives the film new life.

It’s not the end of The Harder They Come activity in 2014 either, with a US musical in the pipeline, a graphic novelization in development and a release planned for Henzell’s follow-up movie, No Place Like Home.

Even more exciting are rumours of a Harder They Come sequel, with input from Jimmy Cliff. Stay tuned for more on that in short order.