Marley (Magnolia Pictures)

dvd marleyWhat emerges is the portrait of an extremely complex man who defies every stereotype the world at large has pinned to his name.

 

How on earth do you tell the story of a person like Bob Marley? No viewer will ever be satisfied, really. You cannot do anything more than touch the surface of such a complex life. Even if this were a five-part miniseries, a filmmaker still couldn’t capture all of the things that made the man who he was. It’s true what they say: “You can never truly know another person.” Marley does perhaps the best job attempted thus far to give us a better understanding of what shaped the artist. There are facets of his life that I wish they’d touched more on or included; songs played in their entirety instead of little snippets; more explanations of the origins and meanings of the songs; a richer understanding of Marley as a father. To say Bob Marley was a complicated man is a ridiculous understatement, and while I didn’t get everything I wanted out of the film, I feel that this family-supported documentary is successful at painting a much more vivid picture of his life than we have ever seen before.

Academy Award-winning director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, One Day in September, State of Play, Touching the Void) has made a film that is visually stunning. The footage of Marley’s homeland, including absolutely breathtaking shots of the hilly Jamaican country where he was born, combined with a lack of voiceovers, creates a deeper feeling of connection to the man who became an outright legend. Through interviews, historical footage, and performances, the film delves into all areas of Marley’s life: his love for soccer, dedication to Rastafarianism, shrewd business skills in growing his name recognition, inability to be faithful to one woman, shortcomings as a father, and aptitude for being a broker for peace for his homeland and finally his stubborn refusal to look after his own health. What emerges is the portrait of an extremely complex man who defies every stereotype the world at large has pinned to his name.

Honestly, prior to watching, I had very little knowledge of Bob Marley’s personal story but a strong love for his music. I don’t really connect with other reggae music; I find myself growing weary of it after just a few songs. The exception is Marley, and so, for me, he is reggae music and I am probably not the lone soul in the world who feels that way. No other reggae musician should feel slighted by that statement. The man was in a class all of his own, and honestly, it’s not the music I connect to as much as it is the lyrics that Marley crafted. Showing the man as equal parts prophet and songwriter, the documentary does a fantastic job of illustrating the connection between his music, his religious beliefs, and his involvement in Jamaican politics.

How does one become a prophet for an entire nation and, subsequently, a large chunk of the world? It began with that crucial first decade of his life, the time when children are molded and made. Marley was born a mixed-race child and made to feel an outsider within a family that for the most part shunned him. This was tempered with acceptance from early friends like former band mate Neville “Bunny” Livingston of The Wailers who was, pardon the pun, instrumental in Marley’s taking up music. After leaving St. Ann in the countryside for the Kingstown slum of “Trench Town,” he managed to continue to carve out a place for himself with other musicians and his passion grew and propelled him forward.

Again, where the documentary falls short for me is in failing to delve into further detail about the inner workings of the songs themselves and the stories behind them. Perhaps a sequel needs to be made? A short piece included in the Bonus Features, called “Around the World,” beautifully illustrates the impact Marley’s songs still make in the world 30 years later; this could be expanded into a full release to further explore the meaning and impact of his songs. In Africa, Japan, Tibet, and all over the world, people who feel the sting of inequality or “mental slavery” cling to Marley’s music like a talisman. He has often been compared to a lion, with that great mane of dreadlocks and a piercing fierceness balanced with a calm understanding in his eyes. After viewing this film, I see him now as being like Aslan, C.S. Lewis’s lion character in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Marley had the same ability to encourage the world away from the coldness of a never-ending winter into the freedom of a worldwide spring of renewal. | Janet Rhoads

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