What do you know about Bob Marley?
You probably know the words to at least 8 tracks… You know he fathered eleven children, smoked weed, and the word Rastafari is practically synonymous with his name. You know he had a short career and died very young, and on top of all that you know he is a legend.
Kevin McDonald’s cinebiography, simply titled Marley is the story of a man who lived an extraordinary full but oddly mysterious life. This very long, and equally enjoyable film shows a side and aspects of Bob Marley that I promise, you did not know.
Bob Marley’s mixed-race background could well have given him the outsider’s edge, the outsider’s passion to get ahead, and the outsider’s wound – the private pain that created his music. The movie makes a very good case for Marley as a poet of simplicity and force. His first single, recorded when he was just 16 years old, was Judge Not: “I know that I’m not perfect/ And that I don’t claim to be/ So before you point your fingers/ Be sure your hands are clean.” The thought of a teenager writing and singing that, with a kind of indignant pain, is somehow very moving.
Marley grew up in extreme poverty, first in the countryside, then in the slums of Kingston’s Trenchtown, where the first photograph of him was taken at the age of 12. The documentation of the early life is thin, but Macdonald is able throughout to draw on the colourful testimony of his mother, his friends, fellow musicians and a variety of his female companions.
There are splendid anecdotes about survival, about Bob and his band, the Wailers, developing a new kind of music that fused local and international forms into a distinctive form of reggae, and the zig-zagging of a career that took Marley to the United States, where his mother had relocated, to Europe and to Africa. MacDonald puts Marley at the center of a larger narrative; of Jamaica itself, striving to find a peaceful solution to sectarian gangsterism (is that a word?) and crime. By showing us pieces from Jamaica’s history such as Emperor Selassie’s visit, and the public mourning of Marley himself, we register that the demonstrations for Marley were greater in their intensity.
Marley emerges from the film as a passionate supporter and proponent for peace. Which in itself, may be his living legacy. His music was simply the vehicle for that message, and a smaller piece to the bigger picture. Marley is a compelling film, and is sure to inspire.