Many labels have been ascribed to Bob Marley, with the Jamaican musician afforded every description from icon to iconoclast. To those who knew him, he was a force like no other; to his adoring audience, he became the public embodiment of reggae and the Rastafarian religion; to the generations inspired by his political and social idealism, he remained an enduring emblem of hope. Three decades since his passing, time has not lessened his legacy, with his spirited stance – so compelling conveyed in moving melodies and poetic prose – still recognised today. Delving into his humble upbringing, determined quest to harness his talents, and enormous international impact, Academy Award-winning documentarian Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September) examines the man, the music and the movement in Marley.
Crafting an effort as thorough as it is thoughtful, the helmer adopts a chronological approach in charting Marley’s life, spanning the few details known about his parents’ courtship, to his struggling years as an entertainer on the cusp of stardom, to his untimely death from cancer at the young age of 36. In between, over 146 lengthy but necessary minutes Macdonald pieces together a poignant portrait of a person known to all but likely understood by too few; one sparked by poverty and prejudice, sustained by fortitude and faith, and catapulted to success and immortality against all odds and expectations.
A gallery of talking heads – wife Rita, children Ziggy and Cedella, long-lost cousin Peter and half-sister Constance, band mates Bunny Wailer, Junior Marvin and Alvin Patterson, and producers Lee Perry and Chris Blackwell among them – tells Marley’s tale, however he is never far from the film’s sound or vision. With his extensive catalogue of songs scoring their recollections, concert footage providing a glimpse of his stage prowess, rare interviews allowing him to espouse his own thoughts, and photos and newsreel filling in the blanks, his story not only drives the feature, but his presence lingers over every emotional moment.
Drawing upon his diverse arsenal of tricks evidenced in the factual exploits of talk-piece A Brief History of Errol Morris, re-enactment Touching the Void and dramatic biopic The Last King of Scotland, Macdonald utilises the array of sources and subjects to honour Marley’s memory. Emphasising his music whilst providing the volatile, vibrant context to the records that resonated around the world, with editor Dan Glendenning (TV’s The Battle of Britain) he proves his key eye for constructing a cinematic tribute. Though few surprises are offered in the re-telling, the comprehensive content needs no such gimmick. Enthralling for fans and enlightening for those less familiar with anything other than his hits, Marley conveys the charisma of the man at its centre whilst constructing one of the great music documentaries.
Marley was released in Australia on June 21st, and in Brisbane on July 26th.
Director: Kevin Macdonald