Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Kevin Macdonald.
This comprehensive and detailed look at the life and times of Bob Marley makes for a fitting legacy for the influential reggae singer who died at the relatively young age of 36. His songs, such as the catchy, anthemic One Love, promised freedom, love and equality, and had appeal to a global audience.
This exhaustive portrait is the work of veteran documentary filmmaker Kevin Macdonald (the Oscar winning One Day In September, Touching The Void, etc). Macdonald took on the project after original director Martin Scorsese left to pursue other movies, and Jonathan Demme left in the middle of editing, citing creative differences with producer Steve Bing. Macdonald apparently became interested in Marley after noticing his popularity among Africans whilst shooting the fictional drama The Last King Of Scotland.
This definitive documentary looks beyond the man and his music to also incorporate much of the turbulent social upheaval that occurred during the 70s. Marley is a conventional documentary that unfolds in chronological order. Working with editor Dan Glendenning, Macdonald draws upon a wealth of archival footage photos, home movies, concert footage, newsreel clips, early recordings, and extensive, revealing and intimate interviews to give a detailed insight into Marley, who died from cancer in 1981.
Marley was born in an impoverished small village of Nine Mile in Jamaica in 1945, the son of a Jamaican woman and a captain in the British Royal Marines, and was considered something of an outcast because of his mixed parentage. The film follows Marley’s rise from poverty to achieve fame through his music with his backing band The Wailers. The film also looks at a 1976 assassination attempt, his exile in London, and triumphant return in 1978 for the One Love Peace Concert, which was performed in front of 32,000 people and helped to calm internal tensions.
There is also his concert in Zimbabwe to celebrate its independence, which was played out against a full-scale riot. And there is a poignant note with his final tour of America, which gained him a whole new audience, even though he was seriously ill at the time. Along the way Marley became the spiritual head of the Rastafarian movement, as well as the inspirational head and hero of the push for independence in a number of small countries. He also gave away lots of his money to impoverished Jamaican citizens.
The film was co-produced by Marley’s son Ziggy and Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records. Through their connections, Macdonald has been granted unprecedented access to both family – his widow Rita, two of his children Ziggy and Cedella – close friends and band members, the people who knew Marley the best, whose recollections lend authenticity to the film. This is a largely respectful film, but it also presents him as an enigma, a flawed man, who fathered eleven children by seven different women. We also get insights from Marley’s first teacher, his girl friend Cindy Breakspeare, a former Miss World, and the nurse who treated him in an exclusive cancer clinic in Switzerland.
Marley crams a lot of information and detail into its 145 minutes and there are insights into the singer’s driven personality. But there is also plenty of music, with the soundtrack liberally littered with some of Marley’s best-known hits, some of his more obscure songs, and energetic concert performances. And the film is visually rich, especially with the sweeping aerial views of Jamaica, captured by cinematographers Mike Eley (Touching The Void, etc), Alwin Kuchler and Wally Pfister.
Even if you are not a fan of Bob Marley or his music, Marley is still an informative and entertaining documentary about this legendary and influential reggae musician whose music still resonates strongly three decades after his death. This was most evident recently when his voice and image figured prominently during the Arab Spring rebellions. And during the final credits we get images of fans as far away as Japan, Brazil, India, and even smaller African countries, singing Marley’s songs.