Kevin Macdonald’s Marley is iron like a lion in Zion
While there have been no shortages on Bob Marley documentaries, it’s only now, with the arrival of Academy Award winning film-maker Kevin Macdonald’s Marley, that the whole, true story of the reggae legend can finally be told, over 30 years after his untimely death. Yes, Marley is touted as the definite Bob Marley doc, but be assured, this is not hyperbole. Marley is comprehensive and leaves no stone unturned as it explores the life of this internationally iconic superstar.
All that reggae aficionados need to know about Marley is that Macdonald has scored a major coup in getting the notoriously elusive and secretive Bunny Wailer to open up on camera about growing up with Bob and their time together as The Wailers. His insight is pivotal in filling in the remarkably vast blanks of Bob Marley’s early years. Along with well-worn footage and of photos of Marley, Macdonald has unearthed more than a handful of rare gems including the earliest known photo of the musician as a young adult. Remarkably, not a single photo of him as a child is known to exist. The film also focuses on Marley’s mixed raced origins and his absent father, a white English man named Norval Marley who is spoken of by those who knew him. Bob would not be the only mixed race child Norval would father. Macdonald commits an absolute masterstroke in introducing Marley’s half-sister to the story behind his song “Cornerstone”. The story and her reaction epitomises the drive and determination that have helped endear Bob Marley to millions around the world.
Running just shy of two and a half hours, Marley is a meaty chronicle of the Jamaican’s life. However, not a minute here is wasted. The story of a man whose music has spanned the globe for decades and remains just as inspirational today as it was 35 years ago is entirely deserving of full and extended attention. Through his music, Marley became an influential figure for peace and unity. In making Marley, Macdonald had complete cooperation from Marley’s family, former lovers, fellow musicians, record executives, friends, teachers, politicians; anyone with something to contribute about Bob seems to have been pursued and given the opportunity and the end result is a full, humanising portrait that should be seen by anyone who loves music, not just fans of reggae or Marley himself. While much is presented to admire about Marley here, his faults are adequately addressed as well. His competitive nature, adultery and fatherhood are all addressed in a fair and honest manner. Finally, the circumstances of his cancer-related death in 1981 are covered in-depth. Often shrouded in mystery and misconception, Marley presents the facts behind the beloved artists’ premature demise at the age of just 36. Photos of a thin, vulnerable Marley shorn of his trademark dreadlocks are as saddening as his determination to fight on is inspirational.
Of course, it would be remiss not to mention the music! Alongside exploring Marley’s life, the film explains the growth of reggae from ska and the work Bob and The Wailers had to put in to making it big. Anyone expecting a concert film needs to think again. While studio and concert footage is included and his infectious beats constantly flow, Marley is not a performance film. Still, it provides a taste of The Wailer’s very first recorded song “Judge Not”, cut when Bob was only 16 years old. Another juicy musical morsel is a gospel-esque demo of “No Woman No Cry” that featured Peter Tosh on piano. Also included is a look at the ever-so-sweet video for “Is This Love?”
To write about everything that is brilliant about Marley would be to write about the entire film, from the start to the fantastic end credits that present a touch of Marley’s ongoing international influence. Whether one is a life-long Bob Marley fan or (somehow) uninitiated, Marley has plenty for anyone and everyone who appreciates music to enjoy. In an age where it’s easily forgotten, Marley acts as a reminder of exactly how much music can matter when wielded by the right people. With Macdonald’s Marley, the world has finally been provided with a film that completely illustrates the legacy of this larger-than-life figure and deserves a place alongside the work of the man himself. 10/10