Friday, 30 August 2013

Marley (2012) - Kevin Macdonald

Kevin Macdonald knows a thing or two about how to put together a decent documentary. After all he’s the guy responsible for both One Day in September and Touching the Void, two of the best documentaries of recent times. So when it was announced that Macdonald was taking over production of the documentary about the life and times of Nesta Robert Marley from Martin Scorsese, (who like both Spielberg and Del Toro, always seems to be attached to more films than is humanly possible to make), I knew that sooner rather than later I’d end up owning it.

Now I love a good music doc as much as the next man, especially when I don’t really know all that much about the subject. Which is just what Marley is for me. What I knew about Bob Marley were just the basics that everyone knows, those fantastic early Ska 7”s, the early Lee Perry produced stuff (Mr Brown being one of my all time favourite songs) and that after he signed to Island his music became watered down, but crossed over and sold like the preverbal hot cakes to the white folks. Oh and he died because of some injury sustained whilst playing footie. Beyond that I didn’t have the foggiest.

Macdonald’s documentary really wins out by concentrating on Marley the person, rather than being a definitive trawl through which album came when and what single charted where. I’m sure there are numerous books out there that cover that sort of thing in OCD style detail. The Marley family seem to have given their blessing to the project since they are interviewed, and have obviously given up a stack of never before seen pics and home video footage. Now normally that sort of thing could be a death blow for this sort of film. Since the director is obligated to show the subject in a certain rose tinted light in exchange for access to such previously unseen goodies. However Macdonald manages to have both his cake and eat it. For every story of Bob Marley bringing people together there is another about him shagging his way around the globe, or being a shitty parent. Eleven kids by seven different women while all the while being married, that definitely paints a picture that most families wouldn’t want talked about too loudly.

On top of that the interviews that Macdonald secures with various players from the late 60s Jamaican reggae scene are all gold. Jimmy Cliff, Bunny Wailer, Chris Blackwell and Rita Marley are all very forthcoming. Lee Perry is thankfully not in crazy man mode and manages to give a small insight too. Although his contribution is so small I do suspect the rest of his interview was unusable. Fire, water, CDs hanging from bits of string on a stick, his standard routine. Yawn. Then there are various girlfriends, long lost family members and a whole host of characters from Marley’s past. Weaved into these interviews are some gorgeous aerial photography of Jamaica and archive footage galore.

In short this is one of those documentaries that if you have any sort of love of music you have to see. I went into it thinking Bob Marley was an alright if somewhat overrated bloke, that managed to bring reggae to the sort of people that would never normally listen to it. I came away not having changed my opinion all that much, but with a greater respect for the man. The final chapter of the film, dealing with Marley’s untimely death is heartbreaking, and really hammers home the idea that behind the persona Marley had built for himself throughout the 70s, was a very real person who was dying and desperately didn’t want to. See it with the bass cranked up to max, but do see it.

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