We all know the stereotype. Jamaica: the home of Rastas, reggae and the musical legend, Bob Marley. No other country is as associated with a single person as Jamaica is with Marley. The ‘first third world superstar’ may be subject to some harsh pre-conceptions – his womanising, Rasta way of life and way too much ganja have all contributed to that. Not that these things aren’t true. But there is a hell of a lot more to this story. After six years and three different directors, Marley’s incredible yet somewhat mysterious life has finally been successfully documented. And boy is it a cracker.
Kevin MacDonald’s documentary takes us chronologically through Bob Marley’s life – from his humble upbringing, through his rise to fame, to his sad end. Due to a distinct lack of video footage of the great man, especially during his early career, we are taught about him mainly through interviews with his family and friends. These in themselves are incredibly enjoyable to watch because as you can imagine, there is quite a collection of characters on show, all well adept at storytelling in their jovial patois. Amongst the interviewees is Marley’s devoted wife Rita (who stood by him despite his evident aversion to monogamy), and we also hear perhaps the most critical of all of the accounts from two of his children, Ziggy and Cedella.
MacDonald attempts to show Marley in quite a serious light. His importance in Jamaican politics is emphasised and there is video evidence to boot. He is shown at one of his Peace Concerts in Jamaica, physically uniting the hands of two opposing prominent politicians during the height of the political gang warfare and violence that plagued country at the time. Whether you buy into this more serious side is irrelevant, however, to the enjoyment of the film. Simply getting to know more about a clearly influential, intriguing and complex character is enough to make this film exceptional.
The film also attempts to draw attention to the meaning behind all the songs we think we know so well, by explaining the circumstances under which they were written. Again, it is up to you to decide whether to subscribe to this or not, but there is one thing that is absolutely certain – the music speaks for itself and the film soundtrack is brilliant. It is sure to have you tapping your feet throughout and singing his songs for days on end thereafter.
By the end of the film you feel as if you know much more about this mysterious man. His quiet charisma and devotion to the Rastafarian way are what ultimately define him and his actions. Most documentary films appeal solely to the die-hard fans but Marley in fact is different. Everyone likes Bob Marley and everyone will enjoy this film. The documentary puts meaning behind the music we all know, and gives an intriguing insight into the life of a true icon. His influence can be felt across the world, even now, over three decades after his death, and that story is truly amazing.
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