Documentary Review: ‘Marley’

Greetings again from the darkness. This documentary was first released in 2012. I watched it then, and was pleased to hear that it’s now being re-released as part of the schedule of events in celebration of what would have been Bob Marley’s 75th birthday. Kevin Macdonald is one of those rare directors who has had commercial success with both documentary and mainstream films. His LAST KING OF SCOTLAND (2006) featured a powerful and Oscar-winning performance from Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin. In TOUCHING THE VOID (2003), he chronicled a perilous mountain climbing trip in the Andes. With this documentary, Macdonald takes on the fascinating life of musician and humanitarian, Bob Marley.

This extraordinary film features some wonderful never before seen video and still photography, as well as some very insightful interviews from friends, family, bandmates, and others who were present during that time (Marley died in 1981). We see the poverty stricken area of Jamaica where Marley was born to his mother (a local teenager) and his father, a 60-something white man who evidently worked for the forest department.

It’s truly fascinating to watch Marley’s development as a musician and human being. With little education, he relied on stunning life instincts and rose to be the most important Jamaican figure in a time of intense discourse. His personality was one that brought people together, and his music complimented his beliefs and encouraged a unified country and world. While he survived an assassination attempt, he was unable to beat cancer. His death at the young age of 36 (malignant melanoma), leaves us asking … what could have been? Watching his Wailers begin by playing for free in small clubs and building to worldwide tours in huge stadiums shows just how much influence he had with his words, music and actions. He was admired globally and revered in Jamaica. So often biographies and documentaries treat their subject as either a saint or villain. Here, we get the descriptions from Marley’s own voice, as well as the voices of his wife Rita, his children (including Ziggy), and his girlfriends (including Cindy Breakspeare, who was Miss World). We learn he had 11 kids with multiple women, and wasn’t the warmest father to his kids, though he was courageous and insightful, and always willing to listen to both sides of an argument.

For most, being an influential musician would be enough. For Bob Marley, it was just the key to the door … his vision was for a peaceful world where we could all “get together and feel alright”. You will notice I have yet to mention marijuana. Marley’s face has become a symbol for Jamaica’s key export, and that’s a shame … more need to know what this man was all about, and director Macdonald delivers.

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