Star rating – 8/10
Bob Marley’s charisma shines through in this highly enjoyable and informative documentary about the man who put reggae music on the world map. It’s amazing to think that he was only 36 when he died of cancer in 1981, having achieved so much in his short life.
Kevin Macdonald’s impressive film, if slightly overlong at 2 hours 25 minutes, charts the rise of this gifted and highly influential man from the dirt poor countryside of Jamaica to the harsh streets of Kingston. His beauty is striking, and his talent undeniable. What is more surprising perhaps is just how driven and hard working he was, making his fellow band members rehearse for hour upon hour, and only getting about three or four hours sleep a night himself.
Macdonald hints at some conclusions that his audience might draw from the interviews he shows of many of Marley’s close friends and family members, without ever really spelling them out. And there is a wealth of detail that I was not previously aware of, like the impact of his having a white father, who deserted his mother very early on in his life and was not around to share his son’s childhood. This, and his mixed race heritage, seems to have lead Marley to a deep sense of rejection and a feeling of not belonging.
His salvation was the Rastafarian religion which shaped his life and music, and which grounded him in his core beliefs of peace and love to all humanity. But some of the more contentious details are skirted over, like his attitude to his children and the many women in his life. His daughter, for example, is very visibly still hurting from not being able to really get close to her father, even when he was on his deathbed.
Marley comes across as an ultra competitive person, who was just as capable of being cold to those close to him, as he was of being extremely warm and generous to the thousands of people who came to him for charitable hand outs. And the political dimension to his relationship with Chris Blackwell and Island Records is not really not explored, just hinted at.
So maybe one day there will be another story told about Bob Marley, which doesn’t leave out some of the details which his family want to remain hidden. I am sure it will be equally fascinating, but for the moment it is enough to enjoy this inspiring man and his uplifting music. This film is a great reminder of the power and joy of Marley’s songs, and it was good to see how many of the audience were in their twenties – so his is also music for a new generation perhaps.