November 28, 2012 -- This documentary film seems to give the viewer a fairly complete account of the life, death and career of the best-known reggae artist in history, Jamaican-born Bob Marley. I say seems to because I'm no expert on Marley myself, so I can't judge what's been left out of the movie. Chances are, if you are a fan of reggae music, you will get a lot out of this movie. For one thing, there is plenty of good concert music on the soundtrack.
The movie, directed by Kevin Macdonald of “The Last King of Scotland,” uses a lot of archival and concert footage, along with audio recordings of interviews made with Marley before he died at the age of 36 in 1981. The music sounded great, even though I was listening to a pre-release, non-commercial DVD with only a stereo soundtrack on a surround-sound system (using my amp's pro-logic processing to convert stereo input to surround output and cranking it up pretty loud). Commercial DVD releases of this movie have a 5.1 surround-sound soundtrack, while the bluray version has the more advanced, lossless surround soundtrack, as you would expect, but these recordings in the film are old. It would take a lot of remastering to get them up to modern specs.
Since the Jamaican accents are pretty thick, subtitles are provided, even in the theatrical release of the movie, in some places, even when the people interviewed are speaking English. Additional subtitles are needed, and probably provided on the commercial DVDs and blurays. Some interviews are also in French, with English subtitles provided. There are some talking heads in this film, but most of it is a kind of oral history, with many colorful interviews with people who knew Bob Marley at different stages of his life. This provides a lot of local color.
One interview of this sort is conducted in the neighborhood where Bob Marley was born and more interviews are conducted in the neighborhoods where Marley grew up, and later where he lived after he had grown to adulthood. Most of these people are both friendly and talkative, sometimes using a kind of Pidgin English with Jamaican words for specific things and places in Jamaica. Marley's widow, Rita Marley provides the greatest bulk of information about her former husband. Marley's son, Ziggy also provides insights into the Marley family life.
There is quite a bit of information in the film about Marley's religion, he was a Rastafarian. We see footage of a historic visit to Jamaica by a man many Rastafarians believe was the incarnation of Christ, the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I. It was the same faith that led Marley to make a trip to Africa.
Marley's personal life also gets a lot of attention in the film. Marley had some 11 children, three with his wife, Rita, and several others by other women. He also adopted two of Rita's children from previous relationships. Rita also accompanied her husband on tours. She was a backup singer in the band. Marley's father was white, his mother was black, so he was an outsider growing up in Jamaica, belonging neither to the whites, nor the blacks. Being a Rastafarian also made him an outsider, since they were not accepted in parts of Jamaican society during the time Marley was growing up.
The difficulties Marley had becoming a musical star are outlined in the movie. He used an unusual strategy, two big guys with a baseball bat, to persuade Jamaican disc jockeys to play his records on the air. He eventually created his own record label due to various musical contract problems. It took a lot of time to break into the big time in the music business. Once he did, Bob Marley and the Wailers became giants in the music business. Marley became the first pop superstar from the Third World.
Concert footage includes some of Marley's best-known songs, “Get Up, Stand Up,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “No Woman, No Cry,” “One Love” and many others. Beware, these songs tend to stick inside your head. They are not easily forgotten. Marley is a dynamic performer, and a fine athlete who kept himself in good condition. It was a shock to himself and his family and friends when he was diagnosed with melanoma, a deadly form of cancer, which eventually took his life.
Up until that point, Marley had been lucky. An assassin fired at him from close range and hit him. The assassination attempt was meant to stop Marley from performing in a concert, but he went to the concert anyway, and showed his wounds to the crowd. The divisive politics of Jamaica led to many shootings, including the assassination attempt against Marley, but he tried to use his influence to stop the violence. Marley lived quite a life. That's what this movie is all about. It rates a B.
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