When most people think of Bob Marley, what probably comes to mind is reggae, Jamaica and marijuana. But how did a street urchin raised by a teen-mom in a country shack with no electricity manage to become a beloved icon admired all over the world?
That little-known side of Bob's life story is the subject of Marley, an intimate biopic produced by his son, Ziggy, and directed by Scotsman Kevin Macdonald. Because of the participation in the project of so many relatives, friends and colleagues, the picture paints a fascinating portrait which fully fleshes out its subject, thereby resisting the temptation of merely placing him on a pedestal.
At the point of departure we learn that Robert Nesta Marley was born in 1945 to Cedella Malcolm, a young local gal, and Captain Norval Marley, a British plantation overseer already in his 60s. Bob never really knew his father or the rest of the Marleys, a prominent family with a construction business on the island. In fact, his request for financial help to kickstart his career was rebuffed out of hand by his relatively-rich white relations.
Rejection was a recurring theme during Bob's formative years, when he was teased as a "half-caste" by other boys for being mixed. And he was equally unpopular with the opposite sex, since "Every girl's dream in Jamaica was to have a tall, dark boyfriend." He was even abandoned by his mom who moved to America while he was still in his teens.
Fortunately, Bob eventually found salvation through a love of music and the embrace of the Rastafarian community. Seeing his guitar as a way out of poverty, he let his hair grow while writing popular songs about equality, world peace, and cannabis, which is considered a sacred herb by the dreadlocked adherents of his pot-smoking religion.
After struggling to make it for over a decade while getting ripped-off by unscrupulous producers and promoters, Marley finally landed his big break in 1973 when he and the Wailers signed with Island Records. The group went on to record such hits as "One Love," "Jammin'," "No Woman No Cry," "I Shot the Sheriff," "Redemptive Song," "Get Up, Stand Up," "Stir It Up" and "Is This Love?" to name a few.
The 2½ hour combination concert/interview flick allocates a decent portion of time to archival footage of The Wailers' performing many of the aforementioned anthems. Attention is also devoted to the reflections of folks like Bob's widow, Rita, who talks about how she was really more of her his guardian angel than his wife.
After all, he had 11 children by 7 different women and often needed help juggling his groupies and baby-mamas. As Bob's attorney, Diane Jobson, explains it, her client considered himself faithful to God, if not his spouse.
Among Marley's many lovers was gorgeous Cindy Breakspeare, Miss Jamaica 1976, who went on to win the Miss World title. Not so lucky was Pascaline Ondimba, the daughter of the African nation of Gabon's prime minister. She recounts how Bob had called her "ugly" because she straightened her hair, and had encouraged her to cultivate and appreciate her natural beauty.
Sadly, Marley's life was marked by tragedy, too, including an assassination attempt and later the skin cancer to which he would succumb at the tender age of 36. Still, his "One Love" legacy is likely to withstand the test of time and inspire generations to come with its all-embracing message of understanding and tolerance.
A wonderfully-revealing, warts-and-all tribute to the human spirit of a Rasta rock god!
Excellent (4 stars)
Pated PG-13 for violent images, mature themes and cannabis consumption.
Running time: 145 minutes
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
See a trailer for Marley