Marley Review: Stir It Up

April 17, 2012 by  
Filed under - Home, Film Reviews

MARLEY (15):
On General Release Friday 20th April

Idolised by millions the world over and one of the most famous faces on earth, how much do you really know about Bob Marley beyond, the basics – that he was from Jamaica, popularised Reggae and liked to smoke a goodly quantity of the happy nettles?

Kevin Macdonald’s documentary shines a light on one of music’s greatest icons but thankfully stops short of deification. Marley’s musical genius and philanthropy is certainly acknowledged but so is his serial adultery (which led to him fathering 11 children by seven different women) and his depressingly antiquated attitude towards women – far less progressive than his liberal political stance might imply.

We follow Marley from his life as a poor farm boy in Jamaican slums of Trench Town – a harsh fatherless existence where he was often victimised for being mixed race – to his rebellious teenage years and eventual success, before his tragic death from cancer at the age of 36.  Its structure is a familiar but a winning one – Macdonald mixes archive footage, live concerts and interviews with an impressive array of talking heads that include some of his closest associates.

That Marley is culturally significant is undeniable, so Macdonald wisely shies away from interviews with musicians who cite him as an influence or the usual parade of journo talking heads which would have been redundant.  Instead, he concentrates on people that were close to him, including bona fide characters like the red-bearded eccentric Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Bunny Wailer – bedecked in finery that makes him look like a cross between Snoop Dogg and Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator.

The major problem is that we’re left with very little information about Marley the individual – there’s a wealth of information about what he did, but despite the in-depth interviews with some of his nearest and dearest – his wife Rita, son Ziggy, daughter Cedella, former Miss World and long time girlfriend Cindy Breakspeare, there’s very little information on who he was.

That’s perhaps inevitable as memories of him are often contradictory (and prone to 30 years’ worth of interpretation) and so it’s hard to get any sense of objective truth or consistency.  Even after the credits role, Marley the person remains frustratingly elusive.

However, despite clocking in at over two hours, Marley is always entertaining and there’s a great deal to enjoy from rare archive footage, disarmingly frank and personal interviews, and whole layers of information that most casual fans of his music wouldn’t even have dreamed were there.   Highly recommended.

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  1. Colin Hall says:

    I went to watch this film with some mixed feelings. I had heard that there would be interviews with the Marley family and insights from the people were around him in his early years. This kind of documentary always seems to feel [to me] like there is some level of promotion afoot, but this film was more of a collection of personal testimonies.

    If I was going to pick two elements that I thought really made this film successful they would be [1] the wonderful quality of film when interviewing the Marley friends and family, which was so clearly shot with a lovely warmth and [2] the end scenes that shot people from all over the world singing, no matter what language is natural to them, Bob Marley songs. To be honest I could watch 2 hours of them on their own 😉