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British Film Review: Marley
When you attempt to paint a portrait of a legend it is well that you have mastered your art. Kevin MacDonald has mastered his art.
Bob Marley needs no introduction. His face is one of the most recognisable on the planet, an icon for youthful and political rebellion; in this respect his satellite occupies the same orbit as that of Che Guevara. Yet, as MacDonald himself says, ‘They suffered the same fate; they both became reduced in a way to a T-shirt image and one of the things that made me interested in making the film was to try and rescue him from that fate and actually say, who is the guy, what was he really trying to say’. In his 144 minute documentary MacDonald has accomplished what he set out to do and much more. With many of Bob Marley’s friends and associates now entering old age, this luminous chronicle may yet prove to be the definitive filmed account of his life.
MacDonald establishes the origins of this legend with some mesmerising aerial photography. You will be flown over Jamaica’s Cockpit Country, where the lush karst landscape once provided refuge for runaway slaves. You will hover over Trench Town from on high; looking down at its dense patchwork of brightly coloured shanty sheds, a vantage point which begs the question, how did a man conquer the world from here? At ground level you follow behind a Rasta man as he saunters between colourful sheet-metal huts, his dreadlocks swaying inside an impossibly high applejack hat. The soundtrack to his laconic walk is Redemption Song and before long you too will be tuned to the rhythm and spirit of Marley’s music. The balance set between life story and musical highlights is just right, the music acts as a soundtrack rather than a series of music videos and helps to capture the spirit and intensity of the man, his sense of mission and his message, a message which feels even more prophetic and relevant now than it did then.
There is something for everyone here. A documentary must inform and MacDonald skilfully weaves archival and interview footage together to achieve this. We learn about Marley’s early musical development with the Wailing Wailer’s, the group Marley formed with Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston. Livingston, the last of the original Wailers, and a childhood friend of Marley’s, has the perfect voice to tell of the pre breakthrough years, a humorous and charismatic character whose enduring love for Marley warms up the screen.
For the latter part of Marley’s short life (he died in 1981, aged 36) the baton is passed to Neville Garrick. Articulate and sincere, the man who toured with Marley as a friend and whom, as the bands art director designed covers for many of his albums, knew Marley as well as almost anyone. But if these two elder statesmen of Rastafarian and reggae open our eyes, it is Marley’s women that open our hearts. Rita Marley must have suffered as the wife of a man whose relationships with other women were public knowledge, yet her regal and dignified demeanour alludes to a deep spirituality which simply transcends such things. And Rita and Bob Marley’s eldest daughter Cedella will melt hearts with her reminiscences of her father’s final hours. Indeed if there is one thing that unites all the tellers of this story it is that they all loved Bob Marley then and still do today.
In 2010 Asif Kapadia boosted the British film industry with his excellent documentary Senna, a film which appealed to a far wider audience than Formula One fans. In a similar way this universally appealing and beautifully filmed story will delight more than fans of Bob Marley, or music; and promises to be an even bigger success. Marley is fast paced, heart-warming, heart-breaking, spiritual and uplifting; a must-see British film for 2012.
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