Cert: 15 Runtime: 144 mins Director: Kevin Macdonald Starring: Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Cedella Marley and Rita Marley
This is a very good documentary about an astonishing man. There are a few musicians who died far too early and you wonder what they might have gone on to achieve had they lived longer… Buddy Holly, Mozart, Lennon and Bob Marley. Still, he packed quite a lot into his 36 years, before his tragically early death from cancer in 1981, and has left the world a wonderful catalog of music along with 11 (or was it 12?) children. Bob Marley is truly an international superstar, possibly even more famous in death than he was in life. The music transcends cultural boundaries in a way that little else does.This movie directed by Kevin Macdonald traces Bob Marley’s life from his very humble beginnings in St Anne’s Parish Jamaica, through a move to Kingston, a brief early stint in Delaware USA and extended periods in London, interviewing those who knew him best; fellow musicians in his band, his wife and several girl friends, some of his children, an early teacher, his Mum, record producers, even politicians. Marley didn’t invent Reggae, but he took it to the world, and the many, many songs he wrote carried his personal message of peace and love, and it also became the medium of his desire to see his fellow men and women world wide getting along better together. He was a modest man and generous to a fault, giving away swathes of money to help others in Jamaica. He was a perfectionist, making his band rehearse for long hours to perfect what looked effortless and laid back on stage. What he wanted more than anything was to get his music and his message of love, out to the world.And, it has to be said, when women threw themselves at him, he rarely turned them away. But no one seemed jealous, least of all Rita his wife, although I suspect that her generous acceptance of his wandering ways probably hurt more than she let on, then or now. His daughter comes across as somewhat bitter, lamenting that even at his death, his family didn’t really get quality time alone with him, Bob wanted to share himself with the world.
The seventies, the height of Marley’s creativity, coincided with a time of dreadful political violence and rivalry in Jamaica, and Marley, although he never aligned himself with any party or leader, survived an attempt on his life. He fled with his band to the UK for some peace and quiet, producing some of his best music at this time and embarking on tours that took his fame worldwide. And it was in London that he first encountered the melanoma that was eventually to spread to his lungs and brain. Had he accepted the advice of doctors and had his toe amputated, he might be alive today, but he loved football so much that he was afraid a missing toe might affect his ability to play, and to dance on stage. Invited back to Jamaica, the only person capable of bringing any peace to the warring political factions, he staged one of his most memorable concerts, free in Kingston, and managed to get both leaders on stage, shaking hands.After doctors gave up on his cancer, he went to Germany for a last ditch effort at turning back the tide at a controversial holistic clinic. But the cancer was too advanced, spread all over his frail body. He died in Miami in May 1981, a mere 36 years old.Yet today, Bob Marley is an iconic figure around the world, the first great planet-wide music star to come from a developing country. “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights” is a rallying cry in slums everywhere. My own personal favorite has to be One Love, his anthem to the union of the world’s people. The only thing I find problematic is his adoration of Haili Selassi, late emperor of Ethiopia, a small and inconsequential man as far as I can see. But maybe it’s my loss, and Marley saw something I have missed. And I haven’t even touched on the huge ganja intake, that can hardly have aided his lungs.In fact I have barely touched on so many elements of this film and of Bob Marley himself. Just go see. Great documentary.