Pictured Above: Bob Marley in Kevin Macdonald’s film about the reggae legend
Published: 19 April, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Stars
He has been dead for 30-odd years, but he lives on around the world, the first truly global reggae star, whose tunes no corner of the Earth has not reverberated to.
Kentish Town film-maker Kevin Macdonald has turned his lens in the direction of the legend that is Bob Markey, producing a lengthy, in-depth biography of his life, his work and the effect he had on the late 20th century.
This is pretty straightforward stuff in terms of story-telling.
We see footage of the Jamaican rural backwater St Ann’s where he lived until he was 12, before moving to the slums in Trench Town.
Marley’s father was white – a horse-riding, lowly government steward of forestry called Captain Norvel, and this caused Bob some issues as he was not completely accepted as being black or white, giving him the sense of being an outsider.
This film brings us some superb talking heads, from the beautiful Bunny Wailer, who grew up with Bob and was in the original Wailers, to Rita Marley, other family members and friends.
We can thank director Macdonald for committing these people’s memories to celluloid.
There are interviews with Chris Blackwell, whose Island Records gave The Wailers £5,000 to cut their first properly produced album.
We learn Bob liked nothing more than smoking a fat one before heading into the hills for a long run, practising his religion, learning the Old Testament and using its words as the basis for so many of his tunes.
The film is crystal clear in explaining the issues of being Bob: this is no gilded version of superstardom.
We learn that Marley’s success was such that everyone wanted a piece of him.
He was pulled all over the place: used as a tool by money men, by Jamaican politicians, by idolising female fans – his serenity was tried and, as interviews with a daughter show, being a Marley was not always easy.
His influence was drawn on by the two main political parties in Jamaica, the left-wing PNP and the right JLP.
With mass political violence making Jamaican streets a dangerous place to be during election time, Marley was asked to return to the island – he was at this point living in London – and performed at a “peace” concert in Kingston.
He got political rivals Michael Manley and Edward Seaga on stage together to hold hands – an excruciatingly uncomfortable moment which is highlighted in the film.
The impact of reggae music and what it represented is touched on.
We are not, however, really treated to any in-depth consideration of why it swept through Britain, spawning British imitators, but took a long time to make a mark in America: as we discover, white Americans in the 1970s were keener on The Wailers than black Americans.