[Film Review] Marley – SXSW Premiere of Bob Marley biopic directed by Kevin Macdonald
Growing up I wouldn’t say my parents played a lot of his music but I knew of it mostly through my uncle who’s a DJ and always knew there was something special about Reggae music and this man Bob Marley. The North American Premiere of ‘Marley’ took place at the Paramount Theatre with special guests including Ziggy, Karen and Nesta Marley (Karen’s son whom she named after her father). Also two of the musicians who played with Bob up until his passing.
The film featured interviews with family, band members, people who had met Bob in the various countries he had visited and even the nurse who had attended to him in his final days which he spent in Germany at a holistic hospital. Speaking after the film the director remarked that the film had originally been three hours long and that Ziggy didn’t want to cut anything down – they settled for two and a half hours. Often documentaries fall short, skirting over certain parts of an artists life – McDonald’s documentary included what you may have already known plus more.
From Bob’s humble beginnings to his father’s side of the family – we heard from Bob’s cousin and also his half sister who commented on ‘Cornerstone’ a song penned by Marley after facing rejection from his father that Bob had taken the Marley name and made it more famous that the man who had given it to him. Although recognised and celebrated as an iconic Black figure it was evident that his search of wanting to be accepted but being rejected by not only his father’s side but also Black Jamaicans (Rita Marley remarked that he was often seen as an outcast because of his mixed heritage and most Jamaican girls wanted a ‘tall dark handsome boyfriend’) is what spurred him on to create music for people who were also searching. Also interesting to note that in the US it was primarily White audiences who attended his shows and it wasn’t until later that Black audiences there started going.
“I don’t stand for the black man’s side, I don’ t stand for the white man’s side. I stand for God’s side.”
– Bob Marley
The aerial shots of Jamaica gave a beautiful insight into the image of an island that isn’t often seen. Rare footage of Marley’s early performances and also photographs from his teenage years (he bears a striking resemblance to his father) added to the documentary which also included photographs I hadn’t seen before of him towards the end of his life. His voice and lyrics became the music for the people and was the soundtrack for the freedom fighters in Zimbabwe as well as in his own island of Jamaica during political turmoil. I often wonder how he would be received today seeing how effective music as a political tool can be and how effective his lyrics were in uniting opposing parties in Jamaica at the time were.
Bunny Wailer’s recollection of the early Wailers’ manager making the group ‘sing to the duppys’ in the cemetary as he thought that if they weren’t scared of that they wouldn’t be scared to sing to a large crowd struck a chord with me as did the interview with ‘I-Three’ Marcia Griffiths recalling Marley’s double encore after learning that the cancer they thought had gone had taken over his body. ‘The crowd wanted a second encore and we didn’t think he’d make it but he came out and did four more songs’. Ziggy and Cedella also shared their accounts of Marley as a father and also on the last time that they saw him.
There’s so much more I could say about the documentary but I don’t want to spoil it (even though I’ve probably told you half of the film, lol). Whether you’re a fan of Bob’d music or not I’d recommend you see this when it comes to your city. Although his life was taken at such an early age (36), Marley’s life although sometimes filled with drama was one that was for the people. His music connects with people all over the world in a special way that only reggae music can.
Tickets for the UK screening of Marley at the BFI are available now
(I’ll be posting the video up from the Q&A when I get back from Austin)