Reggae

Bob Marley……the name alone evokes emotion. Peace and love, unity, freedom.

The opening scene of the new Bob Marley documentary was filmed in a former slave plantation in western Africa.  A seemingly odd place to begin, but as the film progresses, it becomes, like many of the odd twists in the life and times of Bob Marley,  like a pre-determined destiny slowly rolling towards it’s inevietable outcome.  “Outcast”and “outsider” aren’t words I would have used to describe Bob Marley, but after viewing “Marley“,  by far the most ambitious documentary to be made about his life,  it makes perfect sense.   This is an excellent documentary,  a must see for anyone who interested in Bob Marley, reggae, or the wonderful decade of the 1970’s.  Bob Marley crammed an enormous amount of living into his 36 years, and his story can’t be told without looking at the events of his time. The emergence of reggae music in general,  the Rastafarian movement, the political upheaval in Jamaica, all had huge impact on Bob Marley’s life, and yet he had an equally large impact on all three.  The film does a masterful job at giving the viewer a feel for the times, as well as for the beauty, casualness,  and terror, of Jamaica.  The movie came about through an idea of Bob’s oldest son, Ziggy, who had realized nobody had yet made a serious  film about the life of his father.

When you examine the brutal circumstances that Bob Marley had to overcome in his life, the story becomes even more extraordinary.  His mother was a Jamaican girl still in her teens, his father a white man in his 60’s, a drifter of sorts who Bob only saw a handful of times in his life.  Bob grew up a misfit, not accepted by his father’s family, and considered a “half-caste” by most Jamaicans.  A shy country-boy, his mother moved him to the infamous Kingston ghetto of Trenchtown, where music became a major focus.  Later, in Rastafarianism, Bob found the acceptance and discipline that would carry him the last half of his short life.

Bob Marley didn’t do a lot of interviews in his life, and fewer good ones, he simply didn’t like doing them.  Some of the better ones he did do are included here, and the film-maker’s shot a voracious amount of footage of people who knew Bob, including wife Rita, 3 of his children, girlfriends (let’s just say Rita was an understanding woman), many of the Wailers, and close friends.  There are some wonderfully candid moments, including Lee “Scratch” Perry, but by far the most interesting and thoughtful is “Bunny” Livingston Wailer, the only surviving original Wailer.  Bunny is absolutely resplendent, and very straightforward with his opinions.  He dresses like a modern-day Haile Selassie,  smokes weed out of a carrot pipe, and almost steals the movie.  I was surprised to hear the director say that Bunny was far and away the hardest interview to track down.  Interspersed are some fantastic  concert footage of the original Wailers with Peter Tosh and Bunny, as well as  later incantations with the Barrett brothers and the I-Threes.

As I watched this movie, I was constantly astounded at the obstacles Bob Marley faced in his life.  This man didn’t just pretend to stand for peace and love, he lived it, even took bullets for it.  After being knocked down and rejected so many times, it makes sense that the man who only wanted “everyone to live together happily”,  turned out to be the international face of “freedom”.  He was a man who had fun but took life seriously.

To the great credit of “Marley”, the death of Bob Marley doesn’t sadden the film.  Bob Marley’s wasn’t a rock n roll casualty, or a victim of his own excess.  Rather than mourn his life as unfulfilled, we celebrate his life and music he did live and make.  Ziggy Marley also lives life very seriously.  He dutifully acknowledges his role as eldest son, and vows to continue in the footsteps of his father.  Besides having an uncanny resemblance to his father in both sound and appearance,  he carries himself with the same sense of purpose.  It’s a comforting thought that Bob Marley’s legacy is in such capable hands.

The DVD has some excellent special features, including commentary by Ziggy Marley and director Kevin MacDonald and extended interviews with Bunny Wailer and 3 of Bob’s children.  There’s also a piece called “Around The World” that is a great example of how far-reaching and multi-cultural  Bob Marley’s songs are.

Musically,  the film and soundtrack are loaded with rarities and even some previously unreleased music & footage. This is a truly fantastic movie, I would love nothing more than to see the same people make a second film about the late Peter Tosh.

 

 

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