Why does Bob Marley — the man and his music — still resonant more than 30 years after his death? That’s a question director Kevin MacDonald tries to unpack in this straightforwardly rendered, often fascinating documentary about the Reggae legend.
MacDonald, known for both his fiction (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play) and nonfiction (One Day in September, Touching the Void) films, interviewed more than 60 people in an effort to uncover how Marley went from a poor kid born out of wedlock in a small Jamaican village to a world-renowned musician and unlikely spiritual touchstone. Blessed with the cooperation of the Marley family, MacDonald gets incisive interviews with Bob’s mother, wife and children and gains access to a trove of never-before-seen photographs and concert footage that add newfound depth to a life and legacy that continues to gain followers.
MacDonald also talked to many of Marley’s musical co-conspirators, including Neville “Bunny” Livingston, an original member of The Wailers who knew Bob since they were children and who delivers the documentary’s most compelling insights. Livingston recalls how Marley’s mixed-race background — his mother was a young black Jamaican, his father a much older white captain in the British Royal Marines who died when Bob was a child — resulted in his lifelong outsider worldview; how the band’s Rastafarian beliefs informed their music and politics; and how the friends and bandmates eventually had a falling out over artistic differences (Bunny says Bob was too eager to play the game in an effort to please the record company and gain a larger audience).
Marley’s most moving and surreal moments occur when the man and his band are at their commercial and cultural apex — when Marley learns, while on tour in America, that cancer has spread throughout his body and that he will die within a matter of weeks at age 38. Lying on his deathbed in Miami, a half a world away from his homeland, Bob’s last words to his then-12-year-old son David “Ziggy” Marley: “Money can’t buy life.” It’s a sentiment that infects nearly everything the man and his music represents. And it’s why he’s still remembered today. Grade: B
MARLEY opens May 4 at Esquire Theatre.