Roots, Rock, Reggae: Marley

FILM, Home Video, Music
New to DVD: The long-awaited ‘authorised’ biography of a reggae legend.

Marley is a beautiful, engrossing, understated documentary on the life of Bob Marley from an insider’s perspective. We are invited into his life through the eyes of the people who knew him best: his primary school teacher, his family and friends, his wife and girlfriends, and of course, his band. Unapologetic, yet handled delicately, it’s reminiscent of another fantastic documentary on the life of an iconic musician, the Townes Van Zandt tribute Be Here to Love Me (2004). In many instances throughout the documentary, we are left with more questions than answers, which, far from being unsatisfying, suggests an intelligence behind the filmmaking of director Kevin MacDonald, whose previous documentaries include One Day in September and Touching the Void.  There are many boxes that Marley has been pigeon holed into—Rastafarian, marijuana smoker, reggae musician, political activist—and while all of these aspects of his life are explored in great detail, at no point in the film is he defined or confined by any one of them. This film seeks as much of the truth about Marley, the man, as can be gleaned from its wide variety of sources, without romanticising him. It’s about real life, relationships, and ultimately sickness and death, set to a background of the music that Marley made as an expression of himself, his ideals, and his spirituality and how this music affected and continues to affect people all around the globe.

The joy of the film lies in the candidness of the characters interviewed, as well as the stunning contemporary footage and photos, many from the family’s own archives. MacDonald has meticulously researched every aspect of Marley’s life through a massive array of source material to present us with everything we didn’t already know. We are treated to vivid and profound anecdotes and musings from the wonderfully colourful people that surrounded Marley from his personal, musical, and political life. Through their stories and with fresh eyes, we journey chronologically through Marley’s life, from humble beginnings, to music stardom, personal relationships, and the truth behind his political leanings.

Most fascinating is the exploration of Marley’s personal history and how this affected his life and music. The legacy of mixed heritage left to him by the mysterious and elusive Captain Norval Marley—the British father Marley hardly knew—is portrayed as having a profound effect on him. It’s the reason he was rejected by his peers and family when he was young, and eventually, it’s even implicated in his untimely death—according Marley’s wife, the cancer that killed him was from his white side. Look out for the scene where members from Marley’s father’s family are asked to listen to the lyrics of ‘Corner Stone’. Is this song based on a real encounter Marley had when trying to reconnect with his family? The way the film juxtaposes Marley’s desire for acceptance and ‘One Love’ for all, with the less than perfect love he showed for his own wife, girlfriends, and children is particularly insightful.

Practically speaking, there is and could only be one special feature on the DVD: an interview with MacDonald. There is nothing else left to say that wasn’t already in the film. The short interview perfectly sums up everything that he wanted to achieve and how he went about it, all of which is confirmed by the beauty and lasting impact of the film.

If you are going to watch any music documentary from 2012, Marley would have to be the pick of them. A definitive and timely look at the short life of the titular reggae star, it features beautiful, yet informal cinematography of modern day Jamaica throughout, as well as captivating contemporary footage that sets the scene for this extraordinary Jamaican story. Effortless editing also ensures that this masterpiece of storytelling captivates and charms. It tackles both the tough issues Marley faced throughout his life, and the broader social and political issues of the era in a way never before seen. Every minute is fascinating and absorbing.

DVD Info + Special Features
Roadshow (NZ$34.95)
Region 4 PAL
1.85:1 Aspect Ratio (16:9)
Interview with director Kevin MacDonald
Dir. Kevin MacDonald
UK/USA, 2012; 144 minutes