Kevin Macdonald has outdone himself with this one, rivalling Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World, which achieved massive critical acclaim last year.
Marley is fantastically well-pitched, in that it has the ability to reach an audience familiar with his life and music, or to introduce new fans and music lovers. The key thread running throughout the film is Bob Marley’s music, yet Macdonald goes beyond this, addressing the history of Trench Town, an insight into the Rastafarian faith, and chronicles the saga of reggae music from its roots in ska and other forms. As well as intimate details about Marley’s upbringing and family life, Macdonald touches upon Marley’s impact on politics in Jamaica and overseas, but rather than overload the viewer, this vast knowledge creates a world in which the audience can participate and join Marley’s family and friends in celebrating his life and achievements.
This documentary is raw and honest about Marley’s personal life, with difficult interviews with his children Cedella and Ziggy which are insightful and sincere. Marley’s wife Rita, comes across as an incredibly warm, loving and inspirational woman when we see how she coped with the other women in her husband’s life, as she saw he needed space to spread his message to the world. Although these interviews are deeply personal and almost intrusive, this never affects our view of him as an artist, revolutionary, and ambassador for peace and love, as the music is hailed as the lifeblood of his whole family and entourage.
There is also an intriguing investigation into the character of Bob’s father, a rich white man with whom his mother had an affair. A particularly interesting tale is that of Marley going to his father when he was young to ask for a car, and his father refusing: Marley used this as inspiration for the song Cornerstone. Macdonald then plays this song to one of Marley Senior’s other songs, who has never met Bob, and his reaction adds depth to this personal story.
Most importantly, music takes a central role in the film, becoming the protagonist in the absence of Marley himself, creating a laid-back Caribbean vibe where his presence is truly felt. A mixture of archive and unseen footage bring the music to life, as well as unheard tracks and photos documenting Marley’s rise to fame. The story of the Wailers and Marley’s early music is enthralling, and amongst the interviews, highlights include Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh and the ever eccentric Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry who worked with the Wailers in their formative years.
After much celebration of his solo career, the final part of the film, focus on Marley’s dying days, and the images are painful to view when compared to earlier photographs of his glory days on stage preaching his message to the thousands. His death is dealt with respectfully, and although sombre, this documentary manages to end on a high: rather than lingering on the tragedy, concert footage blazes into life on the screen and we are left with an image of Marley as he should be remembered.
An amazing insight into the life of a musical legend, and respect must be paid to Ziggy Marley and Kevin Macdonald for compiling all this footage to produce an incredible testament to a true cultural icon.