1972; directed by Perry Henzell; written by Perry Henzell and Trevor D. Rhone; 103 mins
The first Jamaican movie ever made tells the story of Ivanhoe Martin: country boy, musician and outlaw, who’s rise and fall sits alongside Jimmy from Quadrophenia or Kowalski from Vanishing Point as a great addition to the canon of nihilistic 70s heroes!
Played by Ska and Reggae icon, Jimmy Cliff, Martin starts out as a country bumpkin, fresh off the bus to Kingston, with a few dollars in his pocket which are soon stolen. He loves city life but jobs are a nowhere to be found. He eventually finds unpaid work, running errands for a strict and suspicious Preacher. The Preacher has every right to be suspicious, of course, as Ivanhoe begins flirting with and then dating his daughter, Elsa. Eventually things come to a head and after a fight with the Preacher’s assistant, in which Ivanhoe cuts this man (who has bullied him from day one) to ribbons, his life takes several twists and turns as he, for good or ill, attempts to make something of it.
Inevitably, this film has a soundtrack to die for, with Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker, Scotty, The Slickers and plenty of Cliff himself. I’m predisposed to like this anyway because my Dad brought us up with a lot of that music and it’s always been a staple of my diet after the Two Tone stuff from The Specials, Madness, The Selecter, Bad Manners and The Beat in the 70s and 80s. The tracks are all really nicely chosen aswell and while you might call them ‘on the nose’, that criticism is batted aside by the fact that that sound comes from that country and those people, so it works really well with director Perry Henzell‘s decision to show Jamaica as unadorned as possible.
Like the Italians in the 40s and the Iranians today, it looks like Henzell, whilst clearly in love with his country, wanted to show it to the world with no pretension whatsoever. Even as Ivanhoe works his way to the top, he is still living in shacks and huts, surrounded by corrugated iron and dirt tracks. Whilst he has nice strides for going out on the town, he defeats his enemies whilst dressed in t-shirt, jeans and precious little else. That’s not to make it sound like a lesser place but the film shows the land for what it is, which is a vibrant, exciting, dangerous, hard-scrabble place where community is strong but tough times may lead to desperate measures.
Henzell makes good use of extended close-up too, in particular the scene where Ivanhoe calls in at the recording studio, on an errand and watches The Maytals recording ‘Sweet and Dandy’ and in just a few reaction shots we see he has found his calling! The movie-making may be pretty ropey elsewhere but this whole film has the joy, the vigour and the sound to drive it along; not just as a mere footnote of cultural history but as a cool crime flick to groove along to!