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Star - Bob Marley
Genre - Documentary
Run Time - 144 minutes
Certificate - PG13
Country - US/UK
Blockbuster Rental- £1.49 per night
Amazon -£5.75DVD (£10.91 Blue Ray)
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So Bob Marley and Me? Well not great, actually, the music and the man as far as you can get from my musical taste. Black music is for black people as far as I'm concerned because they are singing about white oppression over the centuries. I cringe at the middle-class shuffling around to Reggae on the dance floor at college as I do when whitey chav man tries to rap. This is black people's music, end of, Bob Marley their 'Ja'. But as a film fan I don't have any problem with dipping into Marley's world, emotions, triumphs and hang ups as that's what film documentary is for, an invitation. An icon such as Marley deserves a comprehensive and thoughtful documentary on him. That may or may not be this film. It all depends.
This is a long folks, nearly three hours of Rasta's, marijuana, music, laughing and poetic Jamaican patois. I swear by the end of it there was a funny smelling smoke coming out of my telly. They don't have Presidents day in Jamaica; they have Bob Marley Day, May 11th, death from cancer at the age of just 36 in 1981. This is a seriously revered character and so a suitably reverent documentary delivered here. My Barbadian neighbors crank it up every year to celebrate and you can't help but admire that respect for a very decent guy by all accounts, especially this films projection of him, the Marley family having final say on the edit and so only wanting to show him in a positive light. To be honest I still don't know if Marley had any foibles after three hours of this.
Bob Marley ... Himself
Ziggy Marley ... Himself
Jimmy Cliff ... Himself
Rita Marley ... Herself
Cedella Marley ... Herself
Lee 'Scratch' Perry ... Himself
Chris Blackwell ... Himself
Bunny Wailer ... Himself
Cindy Breakspeare ... Herself
Lee Jaffe ... Himself
=== The Narrative===
We begin with some background to Bob and the Black Diaspora's nagging angst, that of slavery, some 60 million moved from Africa through Guyana and on to the West indies, before the strong who had survived the teak across Africa judged ideal for bonded labor in the Americas and beyond because of that and packed into slave ships. Slavery couldn't have happened without Black Africa's consent and I'm pretty certain Marley would have covered that in some tune or other. And its here the first racial revelation comes to the uninitiated on Bobs life, Marley born to a white father and a black mother. And dad was not young, 60 when mom was just 16, scandal.
Because of that half-caste upbringing and perceived moderate shame to his peers he was not embraced in his home town. An idyllic poverty would describe that youth, the family farm in Nine Mile hidden away in the lush and picturesque St Ann's hills that were productive but indeed exploited by the old Empire for sugar cane and tobacco. Bobs dad was part of that Empire and would stride the town, hills and valleys on his mighty white horse, speaking perfect patois to the locals the way white Jamaicans still do.
Bobs friends describe Marley as shy but serious, the women drawn to the handsome young half-caste with a passion for music. And those friends are as colorful as their headgear, more gold teeth smiles than a Snoop Dog video, willing to tell their stories of the great man but by no means in awe of him. At times subtitles are required and, indeed, deployed as the viewer tries to decipher this delicious and comical patois dialect.
Bob Marley and the Wailers formed in the 1960s with the boys practicing singing in the cemetery at night to build up their courage to sing on stage. 'Simer Down' would be their first hit but it did take along time before anybody had heard of Bob Marley and the Wailers outside of the Caribbean. They were paid poorly to, $5 a week to tour their stuff around the West Indies. But they simply outgrew the country and Island Records came in and gave them four grand to make a proper LP, touring them around Great Britain in the 70s to build up a new following. The band was not happy to start again from the bottom as they were big names in the Caribbean, but Bob grasped the reasons why and played along with the record company to build them up once again. Maybe the white in him understood how 'the man' works. The famous hits would follow and the fame soon huge around the world, only America left to break, which Bob had his biggest hang up about as most of his audiences in the west were white, not really what the spiritual and empowering songs were about.
Back home someone tried to kill him, nicked by a bullet the night before a big concert when a gun was poked through a crack in the door of a house on Hope Road where the guys were rehearsing, five bullets fired and his friend seriously injured by the attack, his wife Rita (Miss Jamaica) suffering a head wound. Bob was opinionated and had foolishly taken sides in a bruising Jamaican election between Michael Manley and Hugh Shearer, the sitting white Prime Minister and his white opponent both using local gangs to wage war on voters in the ghettos. This caused Marley to flee to the United Kingdom for two years. He was also growing his faith of Rastafarianism, a bizarre religion based on the idea that an Eritrean leader, General Haile Selassie, was the born again Christ. In this religion it was decided that the followers could 'blazes de herb' all day for 'enlightenment' and do not a lot else. Jamaican men, not surprisingly, said we will have some of that mon! Anyone who has worked with Jamaican guys knows there are no more laid back cats on the planet.
If you are a fan of the man then you will love this film whilst it gets the rest of us up to speed regarding all things Marley. There is nothing new here to those hardcore fans and probably presented as cliché but I'm sure they will bob away to the tunes and light one up all the same. This is their God after all and a nice Christmas present for fellow fans. To the uninitiated it's quite interesting although if you don't feel it early on it begins to drag, and as the entertainment correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle said -'Bob Marley wrote the same song about 8,000 times, and the documentary "Marley" makes sure to include each version'.
It took $1.5 Million at the box office and most of that on DVD, again the massive black audience the poet is speaking to refusing to come out to the cinemas, no doubt its rental demographic not much better. I always remember watching Richard Pryor's brilliant early stand up shows on TV and seeing a sea of white faces laughing away, Pryor always angry with that contradiction that most of his audience were laughing at black folks jokes, which in a way is covert racism. Marley, of course, just sang for peace and love and hoped everyone would follow him, regardless of skin color although that side of racial tension isn't really touched on here. Even the fact that a black doctor diagnosed his possible cancer three years before he died when he broke a toe playing football, and yet his white manager told him to not worry about it and carry on touring to make more money, didn't seem to raise comment or an eyebrow in the film. He would eventually die in the Swiss mountains at a holistic clinic. I would have liked more of that summering racial edge to boil to the top. Every black person on the planet lives with some form of racism every day and something white people in the west can never contemplate how debilitating that is.
The interesting and controversial stuff about his life is deliberately glossed over here and I would have liked more of that, like the row and grubby carve up of his money when he died. Bob new this would happen and so didn't write a will, no doubt hoping his relatives would take a long look at themselves as they argued over his wealth, earning Bob a rye smile in the coffin. The race side of things in his life must have bee a real tug-of-war between his black and white family and that whole surprise of his white Empirical father curls up a few lips in the documentary. Would he have been the man he was if he wasn't mixed race? Black contributors in the show say in no uncertain terms that his black side of him is where the talent is, which is rather a shame.
I stuck with the three hours as best I could but by half-way I was watching it out of the corner of my eye as I fired up the lap top to do some rating. I respect the guy enough for what he has done for racial unity to watch this film but I can't say I really related to his life or tunes. I enjoyed the colorful gold teethed, dreadlock characters reminiscing about the old days and the heart warming mutual respect in the reggae music industry, and chuckled away at those lazy relatives all dressed up in 'Rasta', living off his name. But with no real subjective comment it didn't really do enough to move this into the top bracket of documentaries for me. 'Marley' is merely a respect gravestone to a legend that lives on.
-Around the World-
The Marley Foundation continues to press the brand on the extras.
Imdb.com - 7.8/10.0 (7,297 votes)
Metacrtic.com - 82% critic's approval
Rottentomatos.com - 95% critic's approval
USA Today -'Sprinkled with riffs, concert footage and home videos, the family-authorized documentary does what the artist usually did: When in doubt, return to the beat'.
Daily Telegraph -'Even audiences for whom easing up to dutty riddims is not an habitual pursuit will get an intoxicating whiff of reggae's soothing powers from Marley...'
Screen Space -'[Kevin McDonald's] vast account of the music legend's life ambles along with the laid-back vibe of a reggae king'.
San Francisco Chronicle -'Bob Marley wrote the same song about 8,000 times, and the documentary "Marley" makes sure to include each version'.
The Mail -'You need not don a red, yellow, and green T-shirt to appreciate the film'.
Capital Times -'Kevin Macdonald's "Marley" is worth sticking with, and not just for diehard fans who had "Get Up, Stand Up" emanating from their dorm room speakers all through college'.
Globe & Mail -'Marley is highly watchable, finely crafted legacy preservation - and it's either a white-washed sham or awesomely shaded'.
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