Bob Marley's legacy and music has stayed visible for many in the fourth decade since his 1981 death from cancer, and with each passing year since his death the story of his life was retold with more and more fuzziness by the storyteller. With the release of Marley, many of these stories are told in an attempt to put in a post in the ground so that the history remains clear, but it also serves as an appreciation to the man as well as the musician.
The film was directed by Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland), who came to the project after Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme separately withdrew before or after principal photography. The film's executive producers are Marley's son Ziggy and Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, which served as Marley's springboard to worldwide success. The film uses many of Marley's available radio and television interviews along with concert performances that show off his charisma at this peak. The film also has interviews with Ziggy, Marley's widow Rita and many of Bob's friends and family as they attempt to reconstruct and recollect his life and contribute their own personal memories of Bob Marley past his life on the stage and in the studio.
In the film, MacDonald attempts to be as complete and exhaustive about Bob Marley as possible and at almost two and a half hours the film is a worthwhile exploration of the moments in Marley's life. Born to a mixed race couple, Marley grew up in the Trench Town section of Jamaica outside of Kingston raised by his mother after his father left the family. The origins of his group, what would be the first version of the Wailers that included Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh is shown, and his eventual breakout to being the frontman is recounted. Marley's Rastafarian origins are recalled and some coverage on the movement in general is shown, and showing the impact of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selasse (viewed as God incarnate by the Rastafari) on their lives is discussed. Marley's impact on the Jamaican people in the midst of increasing civil strife is talked about, and other events such as an attempt on Marley's life ahead of a 1976 concert designed to unite the Jamaican people. Marley the soccer fan, Marley the family fan, and Marley the man in his dying days are remembered fondly.
On the whole, the telling of these stories are informative and engaging to those who know of his music but not of the man, but for those fans who know a bit of both silos, a good portion of the film is redundant and hardly revealing. However, MacDonald does manage to evoke some interesting moments during the feature. For instance, he suggests to Marley's half-sister and second cousin (in separate interviews) that the song "Cornerstore" was written after Marley's father turned him away. The song's first lyrics are played as a subtitle as the two listen to the song, watching them as they listen intently as Bob says 'the stone that the builder refused will always be the head cornerstone.' The layer of meaning to this song is fascinating to see in both of their faces, and the other more politically charged song lyrics are also compelling to listen to as Kingston battled amongst one another. These moments, combined with the tales told through the length of Marley, elevate the film past a simple retelling of events in the musician's life.
But of course, a musician's life should contain the music, and MacDonald weaves this into the tapestry of the film expertly, He also manages to inject a life into them that may not have been considered before. Quieter Marley songs provide environmental experiences as we go through 1970s Jamaica, other performances for which he is known are given their due, and other performances that may not have been discovered before are perhaps seen for the first time. Personally I had not heard Marley and Stevie Wonder combine on Marley's hit "I Shot the Sheriff" before, but it was a fantastic rendition. And Marley's work on 'Jammin'' during the Jamaican concert where he performed days after being shot possesses its own electricity, culminating in Marley joining hands with the leaders of both political parties in Jamaica and urging them to half the violence. It is undoubtedly a great moment.
As you watch Marley, one could very easily tend to have a feeling that Marley was imperfect and that those moments in his life should be given more attention. While I can understand that sentiment, I am not entirely sure how much cooperation one would get in that by family members who were involved in the making of such a film. It does flirt with some of Bob's romances and his paternal tendencies, but his life both on earth and since his departure from it are more justifiable subjects to focus on, and Marley gives us both of those, which are fortunate to experience, once again, for the first time.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Marley is given an AVC-encoded 1.78:1 widescreen presentation and in 1080p to spread its wings, which it does. The production juggles vintage film of Marley's performances in black and white and color, and of film of the battles in Kingston and later of Marley's exile to London. It also mixes in hundreds of stills of Marley in black and white and color, all of which looking superb and the colors reproduced as faithfully as possible. The new film includes flyovers of Jamaica to go with the new interviews and all of the new film looks excellent and includes quite a bit of detail and solid color reproduction. The disc handles many different things nicely and the result is a pleasurable viewing experience.
If it is a recent film about a musical legend, you would expect a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround option and a good one at that, and this one delivers nicely. The music whether it is in demo version, live or in studio all sounds clear and excellent and takes up the sound stage nicely. Channel panning and directional effects are somewhat scarce, and subwoofer engagement is not quite what I may have anticipated, but the interviews sound clean and well balanced and the film's soundtrack requires little in the way of adjustment. It is worthwhile to listen to.
MacDonald contributes a commentary, along with a late-arriving Ziggy Marley to the track. MacDonald discusses intents on a particular scene and provides some background on interview subjects, along any logistical issues in securing their appearances. Additional information and trivia on Bob is thrown in, along with how the pictures and film looks. Ziggy throws his own perspective into the track and asks questions of MacDonald on how a scene was to look and/or sound to boot. All in all this is a fun track with a good deal of information, or at least as much as MacDonald could provide given the circumstances.
Next up is "Around the World" (18:36), which at first looks like an extended look at the end credits but is deeper than that, as people from Brazil, Tibet and Tunisia (among others) share the meaning of Marley's music to them. Some of it professional, a good portion of it personal, with a girl who gets emotion when talking about it, and a boy discussing the murder of his brother, with "Jammin'" serving as a soothing track for him. This extra is excellent. Following that is an extended interview with Bunny Wailer (19:03) where he recalls meeting Bob and discussing their friendship on tour, along with in and out of the studio, and how Bob worked as a musician. "Children's Memories" (10:03) include additional extended interviews with Ziggy along with Stephen and Cedella Marley as they talk of Bob the Dad. "Listening to 'I'm Loose'" (3:48) is similar to the 'Cornerstone' sequence, but on a different song with different people. A stills gallery is next along with the film's trailer (1:56) and a brief snippet of Ziggy's "Legends of Reggae" show (2:07) where he interviews Jimmy Cliff is next. Separate TV sports for the soundtrack (:23) and for Jamaica tourism (:47) round things out.
The front of the disc's case includes a quote from Ziggy that states 'This will give people a more emotional connection to Bob...not just as a reggae legend or mythical figure, but to his life as a man.' MacDonald accomplishes this is quality fashion, as Marley takes its place among one of the better rock documentaries in recent memory. Technically the disc is superb and from a bonus material perspective is worth the time to check out, and should be an easy addition to any music fan's video library.