Stir It Up: Marley


Reggae, and Bob Marley, was always off my radar. So far off my radar, I was in danger of flying planes into them. (My metaphorical and wholly imaginary job as an air-traffic controller was in jeopardy.) Despite this, I found myself fascinated and excited by Marley. At times it drew me close to tears. I didn’t of course, actually cry. In fact, had I cried, I would still probably say that “I didn’t of course, cry”.

Bob Nesta Marley was only 36-years-old when he died and what Marley the film does best is to cover the staggering amount that he achieved in that time. He was born to a slightly caddish and elusive white Jamaican Royal Marine and a black Jamaican mother. Bullied in his early years as a mixed-race boy in Jamaica, Bob didn’t have an easy start. But he turned this around in later life and blossomed into a handsome and charismatic young man with a profound talent for music.

Marley is notably reverential to Bob but does on occasion portray him or those around him in a negative light. Director Kevin MacDonald’s mission to interview as many people as he possibly could was always going to lead to some interesting revelations. Interviewees hint that the head of Island Records, Chris Blackwell (known to some as “Whitewell”), was exploiting Bob by not paying him properly, for example. Yet Blackwell also turns up, happy to discuss his part in the legend.

Bob’s own children portray him as an unreliable and often absent father. One rather bleak anecdote tells how he would race his children on the beach, winning and laughing riotously, not even slowing to let them catch up. A devotee of Rastafarianism and a committed hedonist, Bob seems to have lived a happier life than the rest of his immediate family, possibly because he cared more about football and womanising than anything else.

This exhaustive documentary captures some astounding moments, such as the shooting of Bob and his retinue by gunmen at his studios at 56 Hope Road, assuming he was a supporter of the current Jamaican prime-minister. With gunshot wounds to the chest and arm, he still honoured his commitment to a concert two days later. Another moment recalls Bob on stage with leaders of the two warring factions in Jamaica. Forcing them to hold hands, he united political enemies and brought hope to thousands with a message of peace.

Bob’s effortless charm and love of life make the closing chapters harder to bear. They detail his battle with the disease afflicting “the white-man part of his body”: cancer. Positive to the last, Bob ends his days in a slow decline, smiling and joking with friends.

Kevin MacDonald’s film captures a whole life and if you know little or nothing of Bob Marley this will be rectified by the end. As a documentary it may be lacking style but it is always interesting, often highly emotional and might just change the way in which you view the legend, and the real man behind it. There was more to Bob than is found here but it’s doubtful so much will ever be assembled again in one place.

The closing credits feature a host of Bob’s fans from around the world celebrating his music. Curiously these are the only moments in the documentary which ring a little contrived and hollow.

Marley is now on general release in cinemas. For more information, visit the website.

Watch the trailer:



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