Director: Kevin McDonald
Cast: Bob Marley, Rita Marley, Ziggy Marley, Cedella Marley, Cindy Breakspeare
Running Time: 144 minutes
The story of Bob Marley’s rise and sudden death is one that should have been told long before now. A character so divisive, it’s telling that it’s taken almost four years and three different directors just to make a documentary about him. From the very beginning to the end Marley is the story of the man himself, his ideals and upbringing, his relationships and somewhat controversial beliefs. Those expecting to hear about how he made his sound or his recording techniques, how he performed with his backing band and so forth will, unfortunately, be left wanting. Marley is just that – a film about Bob Marley.
Kevin McDonald, primarily known as a film director and not as a documentary maker, provides a full account of the singer’s early life. He travels to his birthplace of Nine Mile, gives detailed information on his upbringing and his absent white father. He also interviews, for the first time, the original band Marley formed in Jamaica. McDonald makes strong use of a wide range of characters, from his wife Rita Marley, longtime girlfriend Cindy Breakspeare to manager Alan ‘Skill’ Cole and label boss Chris Blackwell. The interviews are touching and personal, each retelling their experiences with Marley and make for a fascinating look into the reggae star’s life and times. Interspersed with this are clips of live performances that really demonstrate how powerful his music was. The film also focuses on his political activism in Jamaica and his attempts to quell the violence that plagued the country in the 1970’s.
Where the film falls down somewhat is by glossing over the negatives in his life – particularly the aftermath of his death and the subsequent plundering of his estate by various characters. None of this is mentioned in the film directly and is only briefly alluded to at the very end. Also, the film gives a somewhat naive answer to the question of his many relationships and subsequent children. It may be that Marley himself was unconcerned with people’s reactions – stated by the man himself and those who knew him, his wife included – or it could be that the director simply didn’t want to acknowledge it. Likewise, his involvement with Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwean government and his apparent sternness and emotional distance with his children is summarised in only a few scenes. The film doesn’t feel like it’s a warts-and-all recounting of his life – it’s his greatest hits and achievements. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind – he lived an extraordinary life and made great strides to progress and promote the Third World. It’s just you can’t help the feeling that Marley isn’t the whole story.