Struggling to find a seat in the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema’s packed auditorium, it wasn’t a total shock that so many people showed up to see Kevin Macdonald’s Bob Marley docu-bio Marley. Like most others in attendance, I’ve grown up in what I like to call the Marley A.D. age: a time when the red, green, and yellow Rastafarian colours have become synonymous with Marley status as a cultural icon. I’m speaking about the rebellious, yet deeply soulful essence, which Marley’s music carries; the unique mood which becomes a rite of passage for many young and posthumous fans like me. I’m speaking about the reggae phase (a close cousin of the emotional-teen Beetles obsession) in which blasting Marley’s “We Don’t Need No More Trouble” every morning becomes the norm. Haven’t we all felt the spliff smoking Marley poster a necessity for the christening of a dorm room at some time in our lives?
As I sat in this theatre filled with families, senior citizens, and every ethnicity known to the streets of Toronto, Marley’s legacy had never become more realized to me than at that moment- a feeling I was delighted to see beautifully mirrored in Marley. Weaving through the grassy hills of Jamaica, Macdonald gently sets us down in Bob’s quaint and rural birthplace, the village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish. Giving first hand and utterly authentic information from Bob’s family, friends, teachers, and lovers Macdonald gets unabashedly close and personal to this fallen reggae folk icon and before long Marley bridges the same irreplicable intimacy that Bob’s music maintains with listeners all over the globe.
Eventually leading us to the poverty stricken slums of Kingston Jamaica, Macdonald bases us in the utter reality of Bob’s earliest beginnings and in doing so the legend of Bob Nesta Marley is comfortably deconstructed showing who Bob really was: an outsider. We learn that Bob, son to an absentee white Royal Marines officer and his native Jamaican mother Cedella Marley- Booker, was an outcast in his own community because of his mixed heritage. Seeing Marley in the vulnerable state which spurned Bob’s great desire to share the message of liberty and love with the world, Macdonald offers a rare position of this fallen legend. Following Bob so closely, we too sleep only 4 hours each night, travel on dingy tour buses, and get paid next to nothing for our work. Marley’s greatest asset is that it allows us to watch Marley’s creative gears turn; to witness the exhausting and unrelenting attitude that is the price of really creating revolution.
Marley includes a lot of rare and quite honestly priceless footage of Bob performing with other Reggae legends like Peter Tosh, and it’s because of candid instances like this that Macdonald is capable of bringing us closer than ever to this spiritual artiste. Above all else that this film explains about Bob’s legacy, Marley is magnificent because it doesn’t simply show what Reggae music did for Bob Marley, but much rather what Bob Marley did for Reggae music. Unfolding the state of Reggae before Bob became involved, Marley shows the striking and surprising contrasts of Bob’s political, soul and folk fused undertones- his passionate drive towards delivering the message of an oppressed people. An instructional in Rastafarianism, a tribute to Bob’s life, a portrait of an artist and icon whose image will endure for ever- all these perspectives of Bob’s intricate being are delicately weaved together by Macdonald and are precisely the reason why Marely is hands down the documentary experience of the year.