Copyright International Films Ltd., The Criterion Collection
Jimmy Cliff, in The Harder They Come.
The Harder They Come CD cover.
The Harder They Come, the Jamaican movie starring Jimmy Cliff, was a cult hit when it was released 30 years ago. But along with Bob Marley, the film and its soundtrack helped introduce reggae music to America and the rest of the world. Ashley Kahn reports on the film's continuing influence.
Director Perry Henzell's soundtrack "captured reggae at the moment it entered its golden age at the start of the '70s — with a variety of styles, rhythms and exotic lyrics," Kahn says. It included songs by Cliff, The Maytals, The Slickers and others — soulful ballads, upbeat rockers and even songs that quoted scripture and preached peace.
"The Harder They Come was the primer for reggae music and the Jamaican experience," Kahn says. It "exposed life in the ghetto of Trenchtown and in the dancehalls of Kingston. It showed how to dance to reggae and when to bring your foot down..."