A Bob Marley biopic might not seem like the most original idea for a movie but thank Jah (Rastafari) that it’s been made, if only to prevent the icon of Bob being incarcerated in ash tray souvenirs. Yes, there was a lot more to Marley than smoking doobies as big as your shin.
The film brings director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King Of Scotland) back to his love of documentary-making (he’s famed for Touching The Void and more recently, Life In A Day) with the meaty task of revealing something we didn’t already know about Jamaica’s national treasure and Reggae music martyr.
Macdonald responds by acknowledging the all-too easy opportunity to go generic: “A problem with a lot of the big stars – in particular Bob, because he’s got the image of a prophet – is that people forget to ask the personal questions. What was he actually like, what was his family like? His father? Why was he so driven?”
Macdonald has done a fine job of answering his own questions with the ample assistance of Bob’s nearest and dearest, who, for the first time, have granted use of their personal archives and accounts. The director interviews some 60 people or as he puts it, “absolutely everybody, before more people passed away”. The most enlightening subjects include; his loyal wife Rita; his tireless girlfriend (and Miss World winner) Cindy Breakspeare; his awestruck son Ziggy; and jaded daughter, Cedella. There’s also a satisfying who’s who of reggae legends – talking heads include Jimmy Cliff, Lee Scratch Perry and, of course, the various Wailers, including Bunny, who looks so much like Roger from American Dad it’s almost distracting.
Despite his short life, Bob Marley was lucky enough to witness the almost religious following his music earned across a worldwide fanbase. However, despite breaking records and holding sell-out shows, the film reveals Marley’s nonchalance towards fame. Rare interview footage shows Bob disregarding wealth and fame as anything but “God’s will”. Piercingly handsome, Bob’s steely stance is only shaken when we’re treated to scenes of the star become blissfully unhinged in almost possessed-like performances. This man was born to do what he did.
Macdonald has somehow managed to dig deeper, longer and wider into the fascinating, inspiring and at times tragic angles of Bob’s colourful life. From the dubious exploits of his white father and his dealings with being mixed-race in an all-black community, to the tragic demise of his health which, despite being marred with cancer, didn’t stop him honouring his last ever encore, Macdonald covers the entire Marley spectrum. The director also depicts an authentic Jamaica, meaning it doesn’t look like it was commissioned from the Jamaican tourist board or a charity appeal advert.
If you thought you knew everything there was to know about the legend that is Bob Marley, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover there’s more to the man than just his music. As for the stuff we all know already – it’s got a new lick of paint. Go see it while it’s still wet.