Entertainment

The Harder They Come in Britain

40 Years of Harder They Come

By Cecelia Campbell-Livingston Observer staff reporter livingstonc@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, November 14, 2012    

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This month marks 40 years since the release of Perry Henzell's sensational movie The Harder They Come which helped introduce Jamaican pop culture to the world. This week, the Jamaica Observer presents a series of stories on the film's impact and persons who were involved with it.

BEFORE 1972 most of the movies Jamaicans enjoyed were from Hollywood. For them, a film with an all-Jamaican cast was inconceivable.

That is until Perry Henzell and Trevor Rhone co-wrote The Harder They Come which was released in Britain in 1972.

Barbara Blake, a Jamaican journalist who had worked with the British Broadcasting Corporation, was given the job to publicise and market the groundbreaking flick.

"The challenge was that there had never been an all-Jamaican film before. People thought it was astonishing that Jamaicans could make a movie, just like they thought it amazing that we would have a bobsled team," Blake-Hannah recalls.

The biggest challenge for Blake was getting British distributors to release a film that would attract more white patrons than blacks.

"If we could have gotten a 60:40 ratio, the leading movie chain would have taken the distribution. Another challenge was the censor, who had us cut the scene where 'Ivan' gets laid over a barrel and whipped in prison as part of his sentence," said Blake-Hannah. "Then the language presented a problem, subtitles had to be put on so people could understand it."

"If we could have gotten a 60:40 ratio, the leading movie chain would have taken the distribution. Another challenge was the censor, who had us cut the scene where 'Ivan' gets laid over a barrel and whipped in prison as part of his sentence," said Blake-Hannah. "Then the language presented a problem, subtitles had to be put on so people could understand it."

While Jamaicans in Britain turned out in droves at small theatres like The Ritz in Brixton to watch the film, it was another story with white Britons. Those who saw it were amazed at the high level of corruption portrayed in Jamaica, which only gained independence from Britain 10 years earlier.

"Astonishment was the main reaction. The white audience was shocked at the Jamaican reality," said Blake-Hannah.

The Harder They Come soundtrack had been released in Britain by Island Records in the summer of 1972. It contained songs familiar to Britons including (007) Shantytown and Wonderful World, Beautiful People.

Getting the word out on British radio and television, however, was tough. A big break for The Harder They Come came when the Evening Standard did a feature on its star, Jimmy Cliff.

"We also took the film to festivals, Cork in Ireland as well as Venice. But with such a new product, we relied mostly on word-of-mouth in the Caribbean communities of Britain," she said.

Something that still stands out for Blake-Hannah was the initial reaction in Britain to Perry Henzell and his wife Sally.

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