Marley touches it all, the highs, lows, affairs, assassination attempts and a search for identity making it a jam and a half.
Helicopter shots of Nine Mile (no connection to 8 mile) in St. Ann Parish Jamaica shows us the insanely scenic birth place of the Godfather of Reggae; Robert Nesta Marley. His childhood wasn’t exactly idyllic, as the child of mixed race parents he was an easy target for bullies. This only made him work harder to be noticed and ultimately led him to the sanctuary of his guitar. He often cited the fact that his parents were mixed made him accessible to all people and understanding of all sides.
“Me don’t deh pon the black man’s side nor the white man’s side. Me deh pon God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white.”
Director Kevin Macdonald gathers the talking heads (not the band) together for Bob Marley fest. His son Ziggy and daughter Cedella are the main child contributors, although Marley did father eleven children, from seven different women. Now his love of football is without question but having enough children to make your own team is a bit ridiculous. Much is made of his wandering eye with some claiming he wasn’t a womaniser but just good with women using his shy and questionable naivety to attract them. The resigned look of Rita his legal wife seems baffling when she describes how Bob would often get her to come to his room to remove the groupies. She feels their relationship was beyond mere husband and wife, stating she was his guardian angel. Ziggy seems to have come to terms with a famous father, honestly recounting stories of how his father would never go easy on them. Cedella however seems to have the biggest issues leading to the most moving part of the picture as she tells how at Bob’s death she felt she would finally have gotten time alone with her father only to be disappointed once again.
The friends are numerous and each one could almost warrant their own documentary, in particular Bunny Wailer, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Chris Blackwell. Bunny was an original member of the the Wailers along with Peter Tosh and he still feels that they were taken advantage of by Blackwell, the founder of Island Records. This led to him leaving after their American tour for the familiar shores of Jamaica. It’s interesting to see the contrasting views of Wailer and Blackwell, with Blackwell presenting the business-orientated, cold realism of what was needed for success. Wailer was all about the music and felt their message and original goal was being lost. Perry makes a brief but memorably appearance having produced some of the early Wailers tracks, and also contributes to the segments on the creation of the reggae sound.
A good attempt at covering as many of Marley’s endeavours as possible is made along with his, at times unwarranted, involvement in the political divisions that existed in Jamaica. The film does move back and forth taking you to previously explored territory but also rehashing material from a different angle, which stops the natural flow of the piece in favour of covering all elements.
The first time I came across the now standard documentary trick of “making a photograph’s elements separate and move towards the camera” was in the 2002 documentary on Paramount producer Robert Evans The Kid Stays in the Picture. Now for those not too sharp at the old maths that was a full ten years ago and probably occurred before this. It feels tired and really begs the question – can we not move on?
People have claimed Marley is biased and with his family’s heavy involvement, it does not cast any aspersions on him. This isn’t really fair or accurate, both sides of the story are put across and have many contributors explaining their understanding of events so for lovers and haters there is plenty of scope.
An interesting, and at times illuminating, documentary but seeing as it is about such a key figure at the heart of a musical revolution never seen before, it feels so very unoriginal in its execution.
USA, UK / Directed By: Kevin Macdonald / Starring: Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Cedella Marley, Lee Perry, Chris Blackwell, Bunny Wailer / 144min / Documentary / Release: 20 April 2012 (Irl/UK)