If I hadn’t read Anthony Lane’s review in The New Yorker of Marley, Kevin MacDonald’s documentary about Bob Marley, I probably would have given the film a pass, not least because of its length, 144 minutes. But if he said it was good, Anthony Lane could probably convince me to see a film about flesh-eating bacteria invading the White House and threatening to devour the First Family unless all bacteria are given equal rights. So, a film about Bob Marley is not such a stretch despite a lifelong lack of interest in reggae (I find it a bit repetitive…) and some skepticism about Rastafari.
Being a novice in Marley-land, I had very few preconceptions other than the ones mentioned above. I vaguely remember No Woman No Cry from 1975, but I was deeply into ABBA at the time, so I didn’t take much notice. My interest was perhaps also diminished because I couldn’t understand the lyrics. As a young teenager in the far-away Finnish north, I collected English pop song lyrics. I had a fat file folder with pages and pages of lyrics. Whenever my favorite songs played on the radio, I’d scribble down every word I recognized until I got most of them down on the page, but Bob Marley was a non-starter for this particular obsession. Admittedly, watching this film, I still found some of the patois a challenge and had to resort to the Dutch subtitles from time to time!
In spite of the positive review, I didn’t expect to be moved by this film, but I walked away with a great deal of sympathy and admiration for Bob Marley, the man and the musician. Perhaps even more sympathy for the women and children in his life as being close to Bob Marley looks like a rough ride.
The first of these three clips from the film features Jimmy Cliff and Bunny Livingston talking about the very beginnings of Bob Marley’s recording career. If your ear is attuned to the Jamaican cadence, you’ll find out why the group was called The Wailers.
The second clip is about sports, football, in particular, and how deeply integrated it was in the band’s routine and Rastafari beliefs.
The third clip is about events in 1977 when there was an attempt on Bob Marley’s life before a concert in Kingston.
The soundtrack for the film dips into the music, catches a minute or so, and then swoops off to the next tune. I imagine this would be irritating for anyone who sees the film for the music, but for me it was enlightening to hear the short clips of musical styles and to experience a shorthand introduction to the musical path of Bob Marley and his times. Since I have the Netherlands largest music library at my disposal here in Rotterdam, accessing the music is both easy and inexpensive. As a matter of fact, a couple of days ago I borrowed a recording of Bob Marley and the Wailers live at the Lyceum in London in 1975. Good stuff.