The View From Here

First Look - Marley

First Look - Marley
Michael Bonner

The reggae singer, given the rock doc treatment...

We've been spoilt with music documentaries over the last few years. I'm thinking principally about Martin Scorsese's films on Bob Dylan and George Harrison, but also Peter Bogdanovich's documentary on Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers and the BBC's tremendous ... Britannia series.

Bob Marley is the latest A lister to receive the documentary treatment from a major league filmmaker is Bob Marley, in this case Oscar winner, Kevin Macdonald. It is a thorough enough trawl through Marley’s life and times, but Macdonald’s film conspicuously lacks any real critical interrogation of its subject. Admittedly, we live in an age where Scorsese’s films have set the bar very high, but Macdonald isn’t exactly a novice documentarian. One Day In September and Touching The Void are both tremendous and, with Being Mick, Macdonald even came close to capturing the essence of a professionally elusive rock star. By comparison, Marley feels quite programmatic; Macdonald doesn’t really stray from telling an already well-documented version of events.

The freshest parts of the film find Macdonald’s crew visiting Nine Mile, the small village in the Jamaican hills where Marley was raised. Macdonald truffles out cheery old dudes like Marley’s cousin Hugh “Sledgo” Peart, who offers up an engaging, if rambling snapshot of the young “Robert”, “rejected” because of his mixed race parentage, and having “to earn his every meal.” Other characters come and go – among them Bunny Wailer and Lee Perry.

Unsurprisingly for a film exec produced by Marley’s son Ziggy and former label boss Chris Blackwell, Macdonald is granted the very best access to friends, collaborators and family – even a former Jamaican Prime Minister – who all offer fulsome anecdotes and testimonials. The archive footage is as good as you’d expect. But the trajectory is routine and straightforward; Bob “just loved music, cricket and football,” we are told. Well, yes, that’s true enough – but at 144 minutes, Macdonald’s film surely warrants a more robust examination of its subject.


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