In “Marley,” a documentary with an abundance of picturesque scenes and marvelous cinematography, there is one segment in which the camera meanders down a lush country road, with Bob Marley on the soundtrack singing one of his signature tunes, “Redemption Song.” The wish to have this moment linger a little bit longer until the song is finished is not to be, and this isn’t the only time viewers are left wanting for more of Marley’s unforgettable music.
Even so, as one friend told me, that’s quite all right because mere snippets of Marley’s songs are fulfilling enough, given the other impressive moments in Kevin Macdonald’s 85-minute tribute to the reggae master, who departed much too soon from cancer at 36 in 1981.
Marley’s magnificent musical journey is basically related by three very compelling storytellers–Bunny Livingstone, Marley’s cousin “Sledgo” and, most rewardingly, Neville Garrick, who was the film’s principal consultant and Marley’s all-purpose companion.
The cousin recalls with enthusiastic passion and humor Marley’s early years in St. Ann’s, Jamaica, where they lived and gathered their first cultural awareness and musical instruction.
Livingstone, arrayed in colorful garb, picks up the story after Marley moves to Kingston at the age of 12. By 1973, Marley and Livingstone, along with Peter Tosh, have launched their careers, mainly as the island’s answer to Dion and the Belmonts or The Temptations, whom they imitated to wide acclaim.
After gaining popularity in the Caribbean, they reluctantly began to travel abroad, and by this time, they had all but perfected the sound that would mark them as the progenitors of the music that evolved from ska and rock steady. In several ways, and through several interpreters, the development of reggae is explained in easy, elementary terms.
However, it’s best expressed in the samples of “No Woman, No Cry,” “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Duppy Conqueror.”
With Livingstone deciding he would rather stay home than venture abroad and Tosh not satisfied with the way things were going, Marley had to assemble another band and it was no less accomplished, particularly with the Barrett brothers on bass and drums in tow. Soon, this ensemble was complemented by the I-Threes–Marcia Griffiths, Judy Womat and Rita Marley, the leader’s main lady of many.
Rita Marley said it was her job to keep all the other women away from her husband, though with only a modicum of success since he eventually had 11 children by seven different women.
Two of the children by Rita Marley–Cedella, named after her grandmother, and Ziggy, one of the film’s producers–are among the informants, and each provide vivid portraits of their father’s competitiveness and relentless creativity.
Marley the composer is evident throughout the film, which often gives way to Marley the athlete and the peacemaker, especially during the political turbulence and violence of Jamaica in the late ’70s, when he arranges a meeting between presidential rivals Edward Seaga and Michael Manley. Even during this momentary truce, Marley is mindful of the music, admonishing his lead guitarist for playing a wrong note.
Once again, there could have been more music, particularly at the end, when Marley is suffering from his terminal illness. The impending sorrow could have been mollified by one of those stunning performances rather than the brief segments that typified the film.
Regardless, it was nice to see the universality of Marley’s influence in the concluding cameos, but in the end, you’ll hurry home and dig up “Exodus” or one of those other great Marley albums to listen to and perhaps recall some of Macdonald’s remarkable footage.
Getting the CDs may be the only way you can enjoy Marley, since the film is slated to close any day now, unless it’s held over, which would be a good thing. Check your local listings or wait for the DVD.