November 916, 2000
The Harder They Come
Touted as the first Jamaican feature film, Perry Henzells 1973 tropical Western is an outlaw film ahead of its time, one that deserves to be remembered for more than its soundtrack. Its certainly got some rough edges (and it wont be winning any awards from feminist groups), but the story of fugitive rebel Ivanhoe Martin (Jimmy Cliff) connects on many levels, from simple anti-authoritanism to political awareness. Based on the story of Rhygin, a criminal who thrilled and terrorized 1950s Jamaica, Harder follows country boy Ivan as he comes to the city, promptly loses everything he has, and tries to fight his way up from poverty. At first, he goes the legit route, cutting a reggae record for an unscrupulous producer. But when he finds how high the odds against him really are, Ivan is pushed into a life of crime, first dealing ganja and then going on a killing spree which turns his fellow hoods against him. Though it dates from the blaxploitation era, Harder is tons smarter than movies like Superfly, both because it pays closer attention to the poverty that lands Ivan in his predicament, and because that notwithstanding, it doesnt make any excuses for him. The brilliant finale makes it clear that his legend will endure, even as it reminds you that its only a story. (Extras include commentary with Henzell and Cliff and an interview with Island Records Chris Blackwell.)
($19.98 DVD, VHS priced for rental)
When Ivan Martin goes to the movies, he watches Clint Eastwood take down an army of bad guys, prefiguring his own fatal showdown. But the subjects in American Pimp, the documentary from Allen and Albert Hughes (Dead Presidents, Menace II Society) mostly scorn their fictional counterparts from movies like The Mack and Willie Dynamite. Still, the Hughes regularly intersperse their interviews with real-life pimps (with names like Rosebudd and Gorgeous Dre) with their colorful, less-threatening screen twins. (Even Late Night with Conan OBriens PimpBot 5000 gets a shoutout.) The point, perhaps a defensive one, is that the pimps flashy, fast-talking style has an undeniable appeal, even if their actual business isnt quite so appetizing. The Hughes subjects claim never to use drugs to keep their women in line, and say they more often make threats than carry them out. But they also say, universally, that their hookers are never paid every one laughs at the idea of splitting the take. Instead, the pimp takes care of their expenses, rent, medical bills, children, etc. while never giving them enough cash to save or to move on. (Come to think of it, it sounds an awful lot like sharecropping.) Though the Hughes give their subjects ample opportunity to hang themselves with their own words, you cant help but wonder how a little reporting might have put their lives in better perspective. As it is, the only person who comes off badly is the owner of Nevadas Bunnyranch, a legal house of prostitution. (Incidentally, hes about the only white character in the movie; the idea of a white pimp is basically considered ludicrous.) Sure, he comes off as a sleazebag, but hes also the only one paying women a decent wage. The Hughes, however, are so fixated on style that hes practically condemned for not talking a good game. In the end, the movies a bit of a cop-out, a celebration of pimp braggadocio without a serious consideration of their business. But theres no question that American Pimp is onto something, especially when it talks about pimps evolving in the post-Reconstruction era as one of the few ways black men could make money off white men. The issues it raises are more interesting than the way theyre handled, but American Pimp is still enthralling.
Boy Meets Girl
(Sun., Nov. 12, 6:30 p.m., Mon., Nov. 13, 9 p.m., Tue., Nov. 14, 7:15 p.m., Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St., 215-569-9700)
Its so rare to see films from young French directors exported to this country that the biggest shock in Léos Caraxs 1984 debut isnt any of the films sometimes contrived effects, but simply the sound of the Dead Kennedys "Holiday in Cambodia" blaring from a cheap stereo. Boy Meets Girl certainly has the energy and the unbridled pretension of a 23-year-olds first feature. But theres no pop energy to Caraxs invocation of the DKs anti-imperialist anthem; his hearts far more in line with David Bowie, whos used on Boy Meets Girls soundtrack and who bears a striking physical resemblance to the Teutonic maestro whose Bohemian lifestyle seduces the hero in Caraxs POLA X (scheduled to open here Dec. 1). Luckily, it gives the Prince an opportunity to program Godards A Bout de Souffle, an obvious Carax influence. (Shows are 8:30 Sun., 7:15 Mon., 9:15 Tue.) After watching Boy Meets Girl, you have to be grateful Godard patterned himself after the crude Monogram gangster movies of his youth.