Director: Kevin Macdonald
Stars: Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Rita Marley, Bunny Wailer, Jimmy Cliff
Release Company: Magnolia Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13
I’m not sure exactly when I first heard a Bob Marley song, but it was in the 1970s before the Legend album was released. It struck me profoundly. An introduction to reggae–derived from ska, it was positive, uplifting music with an afterbeat–I happily acquired every Bob Marley album available. I recall being devastated when Marley died without warning–taken by cancer far too young at the age of 36.
He left behind a treasure trove of music, still played ubiquitously throughout Jamaica and obligatory cover material for all subsequent reggae players. But until this year, no definitive film about the legendary musician had been crafted. Snippets of interviews may be glimpsed on a few concert film releases, but Bob Marley remained a murky legend despite universal popularity.
It turns out that much of this was due to legal disputes among surviving family members and former band members who felt they had been taken advantage of. That essentially meant that everyone closely associated with Bob Marley kept their mouths shut. Biographical material about Marley remained superficial and left numerous holes. Fortunately for all of us, documentary filmmaker Kevin MacDonald gained unprecedented access to craft THE definitive film about the reggae legend in Marley. Since Rita Marley and the family officially sanctioned the project, MacDonald was free to explore and has crafted a fascinating study of the musician and of the entire reggae genre.
Largely following a chronological structure, the 2 hr. 24 minute film ploughs deeply into Bob Marley’s life yet flows like a river rapids with a lively mix of archive footage, home videos, live interviews, and photo collages. Some of the interviews occur via fortunate accident when the filmmaker was visiting Marley’s childhood home and other locales–his first school teacher and a former roommate, for instance. A real coup are extended interview clips from Bunny Wailer, dynamic spiritual leader of Marley legendary band who had departed the group due to personal differences with the lead singer.
The film demonstrates the power and influence of Marley’s music and shows how Bob and his wife saw reggae as a Rasta mission that explains Bob’s incredible energy despite physical hardships and Rita’s forgiving attitude towards her husband’s numerous “infidelities.” But the greatest value is found in countless details of the most personal kind that reveal an incredible portrait of a legendary artist–among the best captured on film in recent years. They range from social-religious views to his obsession with fitness and soccer (that may have led to a disastrous decision that shortened his life).
Marley works on so many levels that an ever growing audience should now discover the film on Blu-ray and DVD. You need not don a red, yellow, and green T-shirt to appreciate the film. Bob Marley fans and music lovers are natural audiences, but anyone interested in culture, religion, history, politics, or human interest stories can find much to love about this documentary. The footage does not lie; masses of people have been positively affected by Marley’s music, and this is THE definitive film about its creater.