Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Marley Sings Praises to an Iconic Figure
Posted by Courtney Small
Back in university there was a guy on my floor who was a huge Bob Marley fan. He had almost every box set and rare recording ever made. However, the one thing that I always remember about him was when he remarked that “most people who claim to love Bob Marley only have listened to Legend.” His message was clear, most only have a greatest hits understanding of Bob Marley’s music. Although his comments were geared towards fellow university students, these words came rushing back to me during Hot Docs as I prepared to watched Kevin Macdonald’s latest documentary Marley. Would the film merely appeal to those who only know the hits? Or would the film only satisfy those, such as my former university residence friend, who were hardcore fans?
Fortunately, Marley manages to find a happy medium that should please both groups. Macdonald’s film offers up a detailed account of all the major moments of Bob Marley’s life. Everything from what it was like growing up a “half-breed”, his father was a white officer, in Jamaica all the way up to his death at age 35. Along with using archival footage, Macdonald interviews those close to Marley, such as his family, former bandmates, politicians, and even mistresses, to create a well-rounded view of the man whose life and music impacted so many people.
The fact that Macdonald focuses more on Bob Marley the person rather than Bob Marley the musician is the film’s greatest strength. The most insightful moments come when the film documents the way the Rastafarian teachings shaped his adult life and the political ramifications that came as a result. Bob Marley is shown as a deeply spiritual man who would spend hours talking religion and politics with whoever wanted to listen regardless of their social standing. One candid interview displays Marley explaining why he is not interested in amassing material wealth and possessions.
Marley also touches on, but never exploits, Bob Marley’s womanizing ways. The most fascinating aspect about this is the fact that his wife knew, and put up with, his many extra marital flings. Marley’s wife is never shown as anything less than a strong woman who loved her husband unconditionally, even if it hurt her inside. Bob Marley’s own daughter even admits that she would not have been so accepting had the roles been reversed. It is these type of moments that standout long after the musical segments end.
This is not to say that there is not a lot of music in the film, in fact it is nearly impossible not to tap your feet along with the wonderful tunes of Bob Marley and the Wailers. However, Kevin Macdonald not only tries to offer extra context to some of Bob Marley’s songs, but also shows the greater social impact that his music had. This not only included healing the tense political climate in Jamaica by spontaneously forcing President Michael Manley and political rival Edward Seaga to shake hands during a concert, but also being the inspirational voice for rebel forces in Africa as well.
As a tribute to Bob Marley, Kevin Macdonald’s film succeeds in achieving what it set out to do. However, the film plays things a tad too straightforward at times, which eliminates the chance of being surprised by any major revelations. Marley hits all the right musical notes you would expect too. It would have been nice if the film had been edited down further than it is. I understand the importance of showing the many facets of Bob Marley’s life, but the film would achieve the same effect had it been cut down by fifteen or twenty minutes. Still, those who love Bob Marley, or even have a passing curiosity of the man, will find much to enjoy with Marley. The film will evoke a desire to revisit the sounds of Bob Marley, even if you only have the Legend album.