Release date: August 20th 2012
Running time: 144 minutes
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Cast: Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Bunny Wailer, Cedella Marley, Rita Marley, Cindy Breakspeare, Chris Blackwell
My university years were filled with a swathe of stereotypical things. I watched a lot of movies; I’d stay up all night and sleep all day; I consumed vast quantities of alcohol. Whilst I didn’t have a Che Guevara t-shirt or a poster with a giant marijuana leaf on my wall, it was during this period that I discovered the music of Bob Marley.
I was vaguely familiar with reggae through my parents, a little Desmond Decker, UB40, Eddy Grant and – as I grew up I the 90’s – I knew who Pato Banton was. Still, I remember buying a Bob Marley box set during my second year and just found that I could listen to the man for hours on end.
I especially recall his music getting me through a particularly tough and mind-numbingly boring essay on Hadrian’s Wall.
Over the years I became a little more familiar with the man and his life though I admit I’m no kind of expert. Luckily, if you interested in the singer, in his life, his connection to Rastafarianism or his attempt to sooth Jamaica through music, then Kevin Macdonald has made the film for you.
With never-seen-before footage, with unprecedented access to Marley’s family and friends for interview as well as to demo tracks, this is effectively the definitive documentary on Bob Marley.
It might be expected that such a film, which actually counts Marley’s son Ziggy and the founder of Island Records, Chis Blackwell, amongst its producers, might be overly deferential to the man and thus may end up becoming quite dull. However, that’s not the case here.
Starting from his childhood, the film travels through Marley’s entire life. Combining talking heads, archival concert footage and the family’s own home videos, it creates a portrait of the legend that we’ve all come to know, as well as peeking behind the curtain to look at the mysterious, flawed, spiritual and life affirming individual behind it all.
What’s really striking about the film is just how candid people are. This isn’t a film that looks to merely idolise Marley – though it most certainly a celebration of him and his music – but tries to investigate who he was, what he was like and what made him tick.
Amongst the talking heads are family members including his mother, wife Rita, son Ziggy and daughter Cedella. Cedella and Rita in particular give a glimpse into what life was like with Robert and how hard it was when he had many other lovers and didn’t necessarily put his family before his faith and his music. Cindy Breakspeare, a former Miss World and mother to one of Bob’s children, is included as well. There are also conversations with Bunny Wailer, who talks about the break-up of the original Wailers line-up in 1974, and Chris Blackwell.
As well as looking at his career, Marley also explores the other aspects of his life such as Rastafarianism, which he became devoted to after a brief sojourn to the United States in the 60’s.
There’s archive footage of him speaking about Haile Selassie and also of his obsession with football and footage of him playing in the park in London. This is of course all intertwined with some absolutely wonderful concert footage and the main hook, the music itself. Many of his most famous tracks feature and there is an incredible version of No Woman No Cry live from the Lyceum.
If there’s a criticism of the film, it’s its length. It clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half hours and although that’s by no means epic, it drags a little towards the finish. As the subject shifts to Marley’s battle with cancer, it remains interesting but looses a little of the drive that had made it so compelling up until this point. The story of his life wouldn’t be complete without that, but it felt like it could have been a little tighter as by lingering on it, the effect it had felt diminished.
Having said that, it doesn’t damage the documentary irreparably, it just means that it doesn’t end on its most impressive note – probably Marley forcing two rival politicians to shake hands on stage with him at a concert.
It’s an incredibly revealing documentary about the life of Bob Marley and is unlikely to be surpassed, given the access that Macdonald had. It provides insight fans won’t have had before, while also reaffirming his legend.
Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.
His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.