Directed by: Kevin Macdonald.
Marley is likely as good as an authorized documentary biography of Bob Marley is going to get. Marley’s family are among the producers and executive producers of the movie, and while the movie does not shy away from some of the darker aspects of Marley’s life and personality, it doesn’t dwell on them either. Directed by Kevin Macdonald (returning to documentaries after a few dramatic films, including The Last King of Scotland), mainly wants to explain the man through his music and vice versa. What we are left with is a fascinating film, and a very entertaining one, but not a great one. Perhaps Macdonald should have tried to cram less into his nearly two and half hour documentary. As it stands, while we hear a lot of Marley’s music throughout the film, I don’t think we ever once hear a song from beginning to end.
Marley was born in Jamaica, the son of a black woman, and white man he never really knew. This rejection by the father he never knew, as well as his own feelings of insecurity about being mixed race, were a driving factor in his ambition and his art for the rest of his life. Many musicians fear that they’ll eventually sell out – but Marley had no delusions of that – his music remained his own throughout his career, and he didn’t tone it down for mass consumption, yet he still craved being a star – being accepted by as many people as possible. It hurt him when he toured America, and although he would sell out his concerts, only white people were in the audience.
Marley does a good job at showing just how important Bob Marley was in Jamaica during his life. He was the biggest star in the country, and its most influential citizen. When there was political violence between the two ruling parties, Marley was looked at as someone who could bring the whole country together – which he tried to do, even after an assassination attempt. The movie is also a helpful primer on what exactly Rastafarism is – the religion that Marley become fiercely devoted to as a young man, and is probably seen by most people as a religion just for potheads. The religion plays a key role in Jamaica, and in Marley’s life.
Marley is at its best when it attempts to tie together Marley’s lyrics with what happened in his own life that inspired those lyrics. Of course, not every song is autobiographical, but Macdonald makes a good case that most of Marley’s songs were. I just wish that sometimes Macdonald, who despite the lackadaisical pace of the movie, still seems to be rushing from one thing to the next, would slow down and let us here a song play out from beginning to end. What becomes clear watching the movie is that Marley was an excellent performer – I just wish we got to revel in those scenes a little bit more.
I also wish the film explored in more detail some of the aspects of Marley’s life that are merely brushed over – although that could be because the film is authorized and the family didn’t want to dwell on these things too long. The film does admit Marley’s numerous affairs – and acknowledges he has 11 children, with 7 different women, only one of which was his wife Rita. The only children who are in the documentary however are his son Ziggy Marley and his sister Cedella, who both obviously love their father, and yet seem to have some harsh things to say him about his well – but they never quite do. And what of his other children? We never hear from them at all.
Still, Marley is a fascinating documentary – a must for his fans, and entertaining even for a layman like myself. Perhaps one day we’ll get an authorized documentary about Bob Marley to fill in the gaps in this one. Hell, if the Rolling Stones can have seemingly dozens of documentaries about them, Bob Marley certainly deserves just two.