by Seth Troyer
In our current era of memes and wikipedia summaries, the true power of a figure like Bob Marley can become diminished. To many in the US, Marley is simply known as “that reggae guy, who smoked weed and thought peace was cool.” Dorm room posters, white kids with dreadlocks, and Marley related drug paraphernalia can sometimes threaten to make us forget what it was that made Marley a legend in the first place.
Kevin Macdonald’s in-depth documentary from 2012 seeks to jog the world’s memory about the revolutionary king of reggae. Marley is epic in scale and creates an experience that will be eye opening for long time fans and newcomers alike.
Re-released for what would have been Marley’s 75th birthday, the film has a two and a half hour runtime, but I can’t stress enough for audiences to not be daunted by the film’s length. The story here feels instantly essential and engrossing. It simply opts for a thoughtful, methodical pace that seems perfectly in sync with the reggae movement.
Even the editing of the film seems to be in reverence of its subject. For instance, a scene that introduces a popular song like “Natty Dread” in less mature hands may have been used as an excuse to showcase wild camera work and the ADD rapid cut editing. Instead we are given a slow motion aerial shot of Marley’s home country of Jamaica. We are granted a quiet moment where we listen to the music and gaze out at the beauty that helped inspire it.
The length also allows interviews with Marley’s band mates and family members to be more than just cut up sound bites. Macdonald is in no hurry and his patience elevates the film. The interviewees are given time to articulate their thoughts, and have genuine moments of joy and heartbreak as they offer their recollections.
The film is clearly a love letter to the man and his music, but unlike many celebrity documentaries, it does not shy away from some of the more difficult truths about its subject. Those who were closest to him are often painfully honest in the film when it comes to his egotistical tendencies and shortcomings as a family man.
Its comprehensive honesty makes Marley much more than a simple fan rock doc. It is an honest portrait, a celebration of a man who helped open the eyes of the world to a new era of music.