Saturday, May 5, 2012

Film Review of Marley

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Filmmaker Kevin Macdonald’s documentary Marley is a fascinating portrait of Jamaican superstar Bob Marley, who introduced reggae music to the world.  It is a very insightful and comprehensive exploration into the life and legacy of the music legend. The film effectively captures the many faces of Bob Marley:  the thoughtful songwriter/poet, the fiery human rights crusader, the charming womanizer, the spiritual messenger, the charismatic performer and the global icon.  Like many gifted artists, Bob Marley was a very complex individual, and this film lends some insight into his many complexities. The film takes a compelling look at Marley’s incredible journey to superstardom and his massive influence on music and pop culture.  It is a truly inspiring film and gives the viewer an idea of who the real Bob Marley was behind his now mythical stature.

The documentary spends a good deal of time exploring Marley’s childhood. It shows how young Marley often felt like an outsider among his peers due to his biracial makeup. His father, Norval Sinclair Marley, was a white Jamaican-born Marine officer and captain as well as a plantation overseer, and his mother was black Jamaican teen Cedella Malcolm. Cedella was only 18 when she gave birth to Bob, and Norval was in his 50s or early 60s. The future reggae star was born Robert Nesta Marley in the mountainous village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica on February 6, 1945. Cedella and Norval got married shortly after she became pregnant with their son.  Marley saw very little of his father, who was frequently absent. When Marley was ten, his father died of a heart attack. Shortly after his father’s death, Marley and his family moved to a very poor section of Kingston, Jamaica called Trench Town.  The film chronicles how Marley grew up in extreme poverty in Trench Town. But despite his rough upbringing in Trench Town, Marley always maintained a great fondness for the area and immortalized it by mentioning it in several of his songs.   

Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) does a stellar job in showing how Marley’s rough childhood helped shape him into a highly spiritual individual.  The film gives a stark view of what it was like for young Marley growing up in abject poverty and often feeling ostracized by his peers. His less-than-ideal surroundings put the fire in his belly and drove him to find a way out of his situation.  He developed a great passion for football and music. He learned how to play guitar and began writing songs at the age 14. The film reveals how music became a huge part of Marley’s identity and spiritual being. It seems that music would have always been an important part of his life, whether he achieved great success with it or not.  

Additionally, the documentary contains tons of great concert footage. Marley was truly an electrifying performer, and the concert footage captures some terrific moments of him completely in his element on stage. You can see how the music touched his soul in his performances. Marley had no planned-out steps or choreography; he just went with wherever the music took him. Also, the documentary is filled with classic Marley tunes.

The film also focuses on Marley’s unwavering devotion to the Rastafarian religion. He was first introduced to Rastafarianism by music teacher and mentor Joe Higgs. His Wailer band mates Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh also became devout followers of Rastafarianism.  And the three smoked ganja (marijuana) as a Rastafarian religious sacrament.  They also all wore their hair in dreadlocks in honor of Jah. Millions of people around the world became aware of the Rastafari movement through Bob Marley & The Wailers.

The documentary shows Marley as an outspoken crusader for human rights and a champion for the underclass. It also reveals how Marley was the most politically influential figure in Jamaica for a time, and politicians sought to affiliate themselves with him to help improve their standing with the Jamaican public. Marley is shown to have played a pivotal role in quelling the escalating violence between two warring political parties and was almost killed in the process. His theme of unity struck a chord and no doubt saved many lives.

The film features some revealing interviews from friends, family members, band mates, business associates as well as Marley himself. Some of the interviewees are quite colorful, particularly Bunny Wailer. Wailer is quite a character, and all of his interview segments are interesting and funny. The documentary also featured interviews with some of Marley’s children, as well as his wife Rita Marley.

The film examines Marley’s very close but unconventional relationship with his wife Rita.  From the time Marley first met Rita in the mid-1960s, she remained a very important part of his life until his death at age 36.  She was Marley’s loyal, dedicated wife as well as a musical and spiritual partner. She was a member of the vocal group the I- Threes who provided background harmonies for Bob Marley & The Wailers.  She put up with Marley’s many infidelities for what she felt was the bigger cause of getting his music and message across to the world. The relationship between Marley and Rita was very spiritual. They shared a powerful bond that has never been broken.

The film’s running time is 144 minutes, but it doesn’t feel like it. Marley is such an absorbing piece that the time goes by really fast and actually leaves you wanting more. Very few films, let alone documentaries, can do that. Macdonald does a tremendous job in profiling this very complex artist, presenting Marley flaws and all. It’s a superb documentary and is a must-see for Bob Marley fans and film lovers alike.

Rent Marley at Amazon

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