Sunday, 29 April 2012

Movie #29 Marley

Do you like Bob Marley? Probably, yes you do, or at least it's difficult to say a categorical 'no'. How could you not? He not my favourite recording artist (probably not even in my top ten Jamaican artists full stop), but I don't dislike him. Who does? Even the Ku Klux Klan probably whack Legend on the turntable when they're kicking back with a beer after a good night's cross-burning.

And there's no questioning the fact that Bob is enormous. Huge. A myth, indeed: a legend. The biggest game in town. You've seen his face from here to Tel Aviv and back again, the long way. So in getting the permission and full cooperation of the Marley estate, director Kevin Macdonald (who I like) has pulled off a bit of a coup in putting together this officially sanctioned (but not too sanitized) documentary biog.

But I'll dive right in with my main issue with Marley. For me, while the story of Marley-The-Man was interesting and the journalism was solidly good, more interesting would have been an exploration of Marley-The-Legend - or how a man who happened to be a committed and talented musician (but, no more than that) became pretty much the most recognisable face on the planet, on a par with Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara and the Mona Lisa. As the closing credits show, ordinary folk from Accra to Ankara, London to Lhasa, New York to Nairobi and Kingston to Kyoto can belt out a verse or two of 'Get Up, Stand Up' or 'One Love' - yet we only get lip-service as to this most intriguing aspect of the Marley legacy.

It's perhaps an unfair criticism: the film does not set out with the aim to do this, so cannot be blamed for giving it light treatment. Judged on it's own terms, it's certainly interesting. There are fascinating and revealing interviews with many members of the extended Marley clan, plus contributions from fellow musicians (including, pleasingly, the 'I'm mad, me' stylings of Lee 'Scratch' Perry, a man who deserves a film of his own) and courtiers/hangers-on from the years of fame.

And, as noted above, the film is not sanitized. Marley's infidelities, his ear for the 'commercial' sound, his distant approach to fatherhood; all are dealt with pretty much head-on - it's hardly a hatchet-job, but nor is it pure hagiography It's all been put together with professionalism, lustre and skill, even if it lacks the narrative drive of Senna or the oblique ruminant beauty of Patience: After Sebald (though Jamaica's misty interior looks stunning in Macdonald's heli-cam shots).

Ultimately, it's a solid film that doesn't scale the heights of documentary cinema, but is nonetheless a worthwhile catch. As noted above, I like Kevin Macdonald's previous work (including the dynamic and fascinating Last King of Scotland) but here a little more circumspection and reflection would've been welcome. We're left with a pretty good idea of Marley's character, but we haven't gotten to grips with his legacy.



  1. Nice review. I really enjoyed the film but agree with you about it not looking at his legend. I'd like to have seen more about this but I guess that is another film.

  2. As always, nice review.

    I don't know if I'm in the minority, but I have an odd relationship with Bob Marley. I would tell anyone that I like his music, but I would quickly change the subject so as not to be exposed as a huge poser. I like (and know) the hits - but that's about it.

    Maybe this bio would give me a little more cred.

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