DVD Review:  Marley (2012)  provides an unprecedented in-depth account of Bob Marley’s life

DVD Review:  Marley (2012) provides an unprecedented in-depth account of Bob Marley’s life
Story by Sheldon Robertson  – Reggae Reflection Correspondent
Feature by Empress K  – Editor at Reggae Reflection
*Dvd/Blu-Ray Distributed by Magnolia Home Entertainment 8/2012

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In the thirty-one years since Bob Marley’s passing,  reggae’s ultimate superstar has been immortalized in numerous ways and numerous forms. In terms of retrospective albums, 1986’s Legend hit all the high notes, and the 1992 box-set painted a comprehensive picture of Marley’s twenty-year career. And  amongst the books published about Marley, Timothy White’s 1983 volume Catch A Fire stands out as his definitive music biography. But posthumous Marley films have not scaled similar heights,  with the best-known one being the video companion to Legend ,  essentially a string of song clips strung together with interview snippets. Nothing along the lines of The Beatles’ Anthology had ever been done for Jamaica’s most famous musician – until now.

Academy-Award®-winning film maker Kevin Macdonald (One Day In September, Last King of Scotland) had the full support of the Marley family in creating a comprehensive look at all the aspects of Bob’s life, and all the highs and lows.  The Scottish director kicks off the documentary with a cold opening set in a Ghana slave-port  that segues seamlessly to a live rendition of “Exodus”, presumably to illustrate the African connection to Marley’s music.  Then sweeping aerial photography of the hills of St. Ann, Jamaica serves as a transition to a segment on Nine Mile, the birthplace of the reggae legend. Later the cameras  move through the hardscrabble  tenement yards of Trench Town in downtown Kingston, where a teenage Marley formed the musical group The Wailers with childhood friend Neville “Bunny” Livingston (AKA Bunny Wailer) and the late guitarist Peter Tosh. 

The Wailers’ early local career moved in fits and starts, even sputtering out when Bob joined his mother Cedella Booker in Delaware in yet another search for a better life. But after returning to Jamaica, Bob and his musical partners eventually attracted the attention of white Jamaican Chris Blackwell, founder of the English record label Island Records, who signed them to an international contract. After enduring miserable weather while playing showcase gigs in the UK for no money, Bunny Wailer left the group rather than do the same in the US, and Peter Tosh soon followed him into solo careerdom. Marley then revamped The Wailers as a top-notch accompanying band, supplementing his vocals with the female trio I-Trees, consisting of Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffith, and wife Rita Marley. It was with this musical configuration that Marley achieved his greatest success internationally. 
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Rita Marley Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

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Cedella MarleyPhoto Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

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Ziggy Marley Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Bob Marley Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Bob Marley Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

This documentary sheds light on aspects of Marley’s life not well covered in previous biographies.  A couple segments discuss Bob’s white English absentee father, “Captain” Norval  Marley, a colonial government forestry officer stationed in the hills of St. Ann.  Interviewed for these segments were relatives of Bob’s on his father’s side, including a half-sister.  Also included is an extensive discussion of the Rastafarian religion, a major influence on Bob’s music and his life, including footage of the 1966 visit to Jamaica by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, a revered figure for Rastafarians, who believe he was Jesus Christ reincarnated.  Bob’s oldest offspring Ziggy and Cedella recall the challenges of growing up as the children of Rasta musicians, and former Miss World Cindy Breakspeare highlights a segment on Bob’s other women and the children he had outside of his marriage. The film even showcases Bob’s love for soccer with the inclusion of footage of him playing pick-up games at his Hope Road residence, which was also the original site of his recording studio Tuff Gong.


But of course the emphasis of this documentary is on the music: Marley’s in particular, but Jamaican music in general, from mento to ska to its most popular idiom, reggae. Many key figures in Marley’s career were interviewed extensively, in particular  Bunny Wailer, Rita Marley, Chris Blackwell, Wailers’ bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett and legendary reggae producer Lee “Scratch” Perry.  Reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff also provides a key anecdote on how his recording Bob’s fellow welding apprentice Desmond Dekker pushed Marley to record his first single, 1962’s “Judge Not”.


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Bob Marley Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

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Bob Marley Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The film also features a lot of great footage and discussion of pivotal concerts, such as the 1975 show at the Orpheum, which was immortalized by  the album “Bob Marley and the Wailers — Live!”,  and 1976’s Smile Jamaica concert, which Marley performed despite being shot by political gunmen the night before.  The 1978 One Love concert, which Marley returned from his sixteen-month exodus in England to perform, feature the pivotal moment where Bob unexpectedly got Prime Minister Michael and Opposition Leader Eddie Seaga to come onstage and shake hands as a sign of peace.  Also featured was the 1980 Zimbabwe independence concert, which Bob was invited to perform having supported the rebels via his songs about their cause.  Footage was also shown of the concert in Madison Square Gardens  later that year in support of The Commodores. As it turned out, this was one of Bob’s final shows, as he was diagnosed right afterwards with a malignant case of melanoma stemming from complications related to a toe injury suffered while playing soccer.

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The final chapter of the documentary focuses on the treatment of Bob’s cancer in New York, Germany and Miami, where he finally succumbed to the disease in May 1981. The film also includes footage of the state funeral for Marley at the National Arena in Jamaica, and the funeral procession afterwards when thousands lined the sidewalks of Kingston to watch his final journey out of the city, back to his birthplace in Nine Mile for internment.
All in all, the combination of rare photographs, footage both archival and new, and extensive interviews with Marley’s inner circle provide a fascinating portrait of the late reggae singer-songwriter. And in telling the story of  Bob Marley,  the film also showcases Jamaica,  capturing the beauty,  diversity, politics and culture of the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean. Macdonald’s  documentary on Marley is unprecedented in its depth and unlikely to ever be surpassed.

Sheldon Robertson is a freelance music writer covering the South Florida music scene for his blog The Music Type(http://themusictype.wordpress.com)


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