Perry Henzell: Father of Jamaican film

Observer senior writer

Thursday, July 13, 2017

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This is the 31st in our daily entertainment series highlighting 55 Jamaicans who broke down barriers and helped put the country on the world stage. Each day one personality will be featured, culminating Independence Day, August 6.

Back in the early 1960s when he was an advertising executive, Perry Henzell lost interest in that profession. He wanted to make a movie.

It's story would be about a notorious gunman who hid out in the swamps of Caymanas Estates in the late 1940s when he (Henzell) lived there.

This year is the 45th anniversary of The Harder They Come, Henzell's sensational movie based on the criminal exploits of Ivanhoe “Rhygin” Martin.

Henzell's Rhygin, known as Ivan, was played by Jimmy Cliff. The Harder They Come made Cliff a superstar, helped introduce reggae to the world, and ensured Perry Henzell's place among cult movie's immortals.

In a 2003 interview with the Jamaica Observer, Henzell had mixed feelings about his finest moment.

“I'm tired to talk about it. I would rather talk about Power Game, which is just as good — even better,” he said.

Power Game, was a 1982 book Henzell wrote, inspired by politics in Jamaica during the turbulent 1970s.

Henzell was born in Jamaica to a Trinidadian father and Antiguan mother. His father worked in the sugar industry and oversaw operations at Caymanas Estates.

It was while living there that a teenaged Henzell followed daily reports of the notorious Rhygin who terrorised sections of West Kingston before being cut down by police at Lime Cay in 1948.

The Harder They Come's Ivan was a more sympathetic figure. An aspiring singer, his struggle to make it exposed Jamaica's corrupt music business and class prejudice.

Importantly, it came out at a time when there was a mystique surrounding Rasta and reggae. The film ignited even more international interest in Jamaican culture.

Perry Henzell died of cancer at age 70 in November 2006. In that year, a stage production of The Harder They Come opened in London.




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