There are a number of autobiographical films these days paying tribute to the current crop of musicians, singers and the likes, and are often combined with 3D to milk in the cash since they are going to reach out only to a limited number of fans. So it's quite refreshing to see a biographical one told of a musical legend. For those who have no inkling to who Bob Marley is, or what reggae sounds like and its influence, Marley the documentary is for you, and for Bob Marley fans alike. Directed by Kevin Macdonald, who made films like The Last King of Scotland, The Eagle and State of Play, Marley revisits the music documentary, and it's really an ambitious one given the size and scale of what was covered, and finding that fine balance that can appeal to the serious fan, and the casual movie-goer without alienating them.
Macdonald takes his time to tell the story of this influential musician and charismatic performer, who came from humble roots in a small town in Jamaica, before doing what he does best with his band The Wailers, touring the world and spreading their message of love and peace through their music. In 144 minutes, Macdonald provided a very linear presentation in bringing us through the chronological series of events in Bob Marley's life, through a series of talking heads styled interviews with family, friends, and those who have played a significant part in various memorable episodes. You can sense the director's reverence for the subject in having carefully assembled and crafted Marley's various performances into the narrative, as well as digging through countless of archives to look for gems, especially those marking Bob Marley's formative years in Jamaica.
Not only were the good put on display, but those that some of us may frown upon as well, got included rather than being glossed over, or deliberately overlooked, such as the growing and smoking of weed, and his rather free loving ways with women, fathering many children with different women. But as the film painted them all out, somehow they all turned out good, with drugs never being part of the tours that made countries go jittery, and the open relationships that somehow got through with tacit understanding, that one may think of as terribly generous.
There's really little to say about what's covered in the film, because of its broad spectrum and attention paid to significant portions and incidents in Bob Marley's life, that the curious can probably look up Wikipedia and get the whole tale. But a film allows more to be presented, especially for those who have never seen him live, to have a feel at his stage presence from the archived clips that were carefully curated, even though I'm almost certain some days down the road, or even now, that some would have already turned up on file or video sharing sites. But I digress.
Macdonald knows his material, and the film got wonderfully edited in engaging the audience, even when there were moments that dwelled on his lineage and family background, or having to work on deeper issues like his music and Rastafari philosophy, allowing appreciation of matters close to Bob Marley's heart, and to see for oneself in what actually made him tick. Anecdotes from close friends, colleagues, and fellow members of the industry, whether from the studios point of view, or from members of his band who had come and gone, all brought out different facets of the man's life, whether from the angle of him being the consummate professional, the inspirational songwriter, or seen during his leisure activities in running and football.
It's also history on film, with how Macdonald reminded how closely tied Bob was to the politics of his home town, and the political infighting that had threatened to pull the country apart. It is here that I witness first hand the power of music as a unifying force for peace, healing the rift divided by reasons long unknown and diluted, but resolved once again by an artform, which in this case is music, together with Bob Marley's powers of improvisation and sincerity in wanting to make the world a better place, starting with his hometown, country, then other continents, and hopefully one day, the world. His philanthropy, no matter how disorganized it may seem, also got thrust into the spotlight, and from various news reels, interviews, notable quotes, Marley the documentary paints a more than three dimensional look at the man behind the music.
If you're not a fan of Bob Marley or have never listened to any of his music, Marley will urge you to do so by the time the end credits roll, as I doubt the reggae sounds will not cause you to be moved, or spark an interest in wanting to know, and listen to more. A staggering discography of more than 60 songs got packed into this documentary to provide like a quick overview to the music of a legend, and if you aren't a fan, chances are that Kevin Macdonald would have made you one by the time you're through this encyclopedic account. Highly recommended and into my shortlist as one of the best of the year!