Made with the blessings and full cooperation of Bob Marley’s family, Kevin Macdonald’s sprawling, two and a half hour documentary Marley is an emotionally engaging and beautifully filmed tribute to one of the great spiritual forces in music history. A revealing and well-rounded testament, Marley digs deep into the psychological and sociological forces that drove Bob Marley to create great art and eventually become an international symbol of inspiration to people everywhere. From Zimbabwe and Jamaica to the suburbs of privilege in America. Marley’s message of peace, love and human rights cut through all stratas of society and was Universal in its power and authenticity.
Marley walked it like he talked it and Macdonald’s film makes it absolutely clear that Marley was willing to put his life on the line for his beliefs…literally. His efforts to serve as peacemaker between warring political factions in Jamaica had earned him countless enemies and on December 3, 1976 he was wounded in an assassination attempt. The persuasive sting of a bullet didn’t for a moment stop Marley from his mission to unify his homeland.
Marley the movie is not blind to the contradictions and complexities in Marley the man. He was a “half-caste” who struggled with racial identity and was bullied relentlessly as a child for being neither white or black. In learning to balance the yin/yang of this racial polarity, Marley became an embodiment of the ‘“One Love” he preached of so passionately.
The film touches on Marley’s legendary womanizing. In interviews with his wife Rita and several ex-girlfriends, there is a bittersweet acceptance of some of the sexism in the patriarchal Rastafari culture. But if you look closer, you will see that Marley’s life was shaped by strong women and his attempts to control them was akin to a boat attempting to control a typhoon.
Marley is composed of some terrific restored concert footage and a wealth of anecdotes from friends and fellow musicians. A highlight is Bunny Wailer’s humorous account of how The Wailers overcame stage fright by rehearsing in a cemetery at night. Perhaps this was the seed that led to the song “Duppy Conqueror.” [Duppy being Jamaican patois for ghost.]
Is Marley the last word on Bob Marley? In addressing that question at the film’s SXSW premiere, director Macdonald commented on the distinction between an authoritative and definitive film on Marley’s life. “About 30 minutes,” he said. We’ll have to wait until that 30 minutes pops up as an extra on the DVD box set.
During a Q&A at SXSW, Ziggy Marley was asked to summarize his father’s legacy. He replied with one word: “love.”