Film: “No Place Like Home”

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In “Perry Henzell’s reggae revelations on film,” Bob Ruggiero (Houston Press) examines No Place Like Home, Perry Henzell’s follow-up to his pivotal 1972 Jamaican crime saga The Harder They Come. This follow-up film was thought to be lost for nearly 30 years. [See previous post “No Place Like Home” Review: Self-discovery in Jamaica.]

It’s a film that many music aficionados may know about, have read about, or heard some of the soundtrack. But with the release of The Harder They Come: The Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory), many will actually see the music-infused 1972 Jamaican crime drama – produced and directed by Perry Henzell — for themselves.

Film/record producer and photographer Arthur Gorson first met Henzell in 1973 in Jamaica while on assignment for a Rolling Stone story about the film and reggae. He took pictures around the island and of some of its music stars, including a young Bob Marley. The Harder They Come had already been out in Jamaica and was about to hit U.S. screens. The pair hit it off and began a lifelong friendship. “It was a pivotal moment,” Gorson says. As to when he knew the film was really something special, it was the first time he saw it in Jamaica even before he met Henzell. “It blew me away, and the vibe in the theater was something else. It was [regular] Jamaicans seeing themselves on screen for the first time. And that left an indelible impact.”

The Harder They Come follows the story of a young Jamaican named Ivan Martin (reggae star Jimmy Cliff), a country boy who moves to the crowded and bustling city of Kingston to pursue his fortunes. His goal is to make records and become rich and famous, talking his way into recording a song (the title track) and is encouraged by its reception at a local dance hall. But when slum life realities, a menial job, and the corrupt local preacher, government officials, and music biz sharks dampen those dreams, he takes the opportunity to become a drug dealer to make money. Ivan kills some policemen and becomes a sort of outlaw folk hero, his record now racing up the charts along with his notoriety. Pumped with ego and self-admiration, he even poses for what amounts to publicity shots to send to the newspapers, brandishing his two pistols in poses while wearing colorful, attention-grabbing clothes.

Throughout the film, Hazell shows an unprecedented and realistic view of the life of native Jamaicans far outside the tourist resorts (many who appear in the film aren’t even actors). The dialogue is often improvised, and he infuses the soundtrack with reggae music including not only what would become some of Cliff’s best known material (“The Harder They Come,” “Many Rivers to Cross,” “You Can Get It If You Really Want”), but also tunes from Desmond Dekker and the Toots and the Maytals.

For many Western ears, it was their first exposure to true reggae music, with the film and soundtrack coming out a year before Bob Marley’s worldwide debut with Catch a Fire. [. . .]

To his knowledge, “The Harder They Come” song itself was the only one composed specifically for the movie, from a rough version Jimmy Cliff had brought in. And in the film when Ivan Martin is recording the song in the studio, it’s the actual footage of it being recorded for real at Dynamic Sound.

Gorson visited the now-defunct studio place earlier this year to film some of the extras for the new DVD, and was shocked to see how little had changed – down to the same piano from 45 years ago sitting in the same position. Disc 1 of The Collector’s Edition includes not only a new 4K scan of the original film, but plenty of extras (also featuring documentaries interviews, commentary, and music videos). And Disc 3 includes even more material about the film, Jamaica, the cast and crew, and the Henzell family. [. . .]

But it’s Disc 2 that provides the most amazing revelation – a fully restored version of No Place Like Home, Henzell’s “lost” follow up movie. Filmed between 1973 and 1981, Henzell tells a broader story of an American TV crew coming to Jamaica to shoot a commercial. An American female producer becomes enchanted with the island (the film’s real star) and one particular local man. They embark on a spiritual and sexual journey – with the occasional burst of cold reality – on the trail of the commercial’s young female star, who has disappeared.

The original, raw footage was lost for 20 years and then thought destroyed in a fire. That’s until Henzell fan/film producer David Garonzik made it a personal mission to not only find it (which he did after much trying), but have it edited with Henzell himself to finally complete the film. As the documentary shows, there was an astonishing degree of technical work done to restore the faded film, a scratchy soundtrack, and hundreds of disjointed film canisters.

“Perry had decided emotionally and financially to put the project aside and get it out of his mind before that happened,” Gorson says. “But I know with this movie, he wanted to reach a broader audience without so much patois and Jamaican characters. As it turns out, the exotic culture of Jamaica was probably more appealing. And there’s a [subplot] about tourism destroying the beauty of the place which certainly resonates today.”

An early cut of No Place Like Home made its debut at the Toronto Film Festival in 2006 and was set to finally premiere in Jamaica, but astonishingly, Perry Henzell died the night before the screening at the age of 70. Gorson served as a producer on the project.

Asked about what people should know about Perry Henzell outside of his role as filmmaker, Gorson takes almost no time to answer. “As a friend, Perry was the most loyal and warmest person you could be with. I’d go to his house up in the hills, and you’d sit at night with kerosene lamps, smoke a spliff, and listen to Rasta friends speculate on whether the shark was more powerful than the porpoise!” Gorson says. “He was brilliant, but he was accessible. And I sorely miss that.”

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for providing all links.]

For full review, teaser, and related photos, see https://www.houstonpress.com/music/things-to-do-watch-the-harder-they-come-and-no-place-like-home-11349964

Also see https://www.thedailybeast.com/no-place-like-home-the-long-lost-film-predicting-how-tourism-would-ruin-jamaica and https://variety.com/2006/film/markets-festivals/no-place-like-hone-1200513270

See trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=XZnlDJxA5Gg

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