Jeymes Samuel—aka the musical act The Bullitts—is the writer-director of the new Western The Harder They Fall, and while he may be new to the feature-directing game, he’s been around for a while.
From his work on his own music, to producing and collaborating with the likes of Jay-Z—who, incidentally, is a producer on the film—Mos Def, Charlotte Gainsbourg and many others, to his piloting of the Jay-Z: Legacy short film, Samuel’s been quite busy.
He also has quite a lot to say about movies. Here’s his thoughtful and entertaining examination of five films that inspired The Harder They Fall.
I love this film with a passion. It was one of the first Westerns I saw where a man of color was a part of the story but his actual color had nothing to do with it. He was just there. I love the texture of Silvano Ippoliti’s cinematography, and the only thing colder than the weather is the uncompromising ending. The first time I saw it I thought, there has got to be a post-credits scene … but there wasn’t. Bold filmmaking at its finest.
Staying in the European Western genre is my favorite of the Eastwood/Leone trilogy. The pace of this film and the swagged-out rivalry of my two favorite bounty hunters is turned up to 10 in this film. The “showdown” of the hats when Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood meet is one of my all-time favorite scenes in the history of cinema. Ennio Morricone’s score in this film has a certain playfulness to it that signals a kind of settled-in comfort in his partnership with Leone that wasn’t as prevalent in A Fistful of Dollars.
This movie was released in 1939. Though only 58 minutes long, it is joyously romantic in its effort to put Black cowboys onscreen. This was The Harder They Fall before The Harder They Fall. Director Richard C. Kahn directed a few of these films with Herbert Jeffries in the lead (who, it turns out, wasn’t Black). What I love about this film is its use of music. In the saloon scene, a murderous gambler sings a song called “Almost Time for Roundup,” and he kills a man who was cheating at poker. While the movie isn’t a musical, it uses song in such a choreographed, performative way. I used this exact train of song/scene thought with Mary’s entrance in The Harder They Fall.
There’s nothing I can say about this movie that hasn’t already been said, but what gets overlooked I feel is the musical poetry of the whole movie. This movie for me is literally a poem. From Aimee Mann’s songs to the recurring theme of “Dreams” by Gabrielle. The scene when the whole movie comes to a stop and everyone breaks (or floats) into the song “Wise Up” is genius. Mr. Anderson was firing on all creative cylinders with this movie. Then the frogs … the frogs fall from the sky!! I have had so many conversations about this beautiful choice to the point that when I was making THTF and I was working on the saloon scene with the Blue Lady dancing, rather than explain it, I would say, “In life, you’re either a frog person, or you ain’t.” Bravo, Paul Thomas Anderson. Bravo.
The word genius gets thrown around a lot, too much even, but this film for me is the celluloid personification of the word. I remember the first time watching She’s Gotta Have It as a child and being glued to the black-and-white beauty of it, then marveling at the scene when it turns to color in the park. My set photographer on The Harder They Fall was David Lee, Spike Lee’s brother, and not a day went past where I didn’t ask him something about this movie. The scene when Jamie Overstreet has to get to Nola Darling’s home is done in a series of photographs to the magical score of Spike’s father, Bill Lee—it’s nothing short of magic. Watching this movie was the closest I got to being in film school. For me, this is Spike’s best movie next to Do the Right Thing.