The Reggae King 

The life of Bob Marley is detailed in this fascinating new documentary

I'm going to come right out and say it: I hate most reggae music.

Hearing that annoying "chinka-chink" guitar repetition, along with the stupid popping drums and cymbals, is irksome to me. And the damned music is always so freaking happy or uplifting. Screw that! Music occasionally needs death, destruction and despair.

Whenever I end up at a reggae-infused concert, and everybody has those big, stupid, closed-eyed grins on, as they sway to and fro, I want to start punching people in the face. With the exception of Frank Zappa's reggae version of "Stairway to Heaven," I have little tolerance for reggae!

Bob Marley is also exempt from my admittedly childish and closed-minded reggae disdain. (While I'm at it, I hate most jazz, too!) Marley rules his own magical mystical musical plain. He's as reggae as reggae gets, and I couldn't love him and his music more. It feels like every other reggae artist is ripping him off. When I hear "chinka-chink" in a Marley song, I feel good. When I hear it in another artist's songs, I get pissed. I'm weird that way.

The nearly 2 1/2-hour documentary Marley is a must-see for lovers of the man and/or his music. If you dig films about musical history, but aren't necessarily a Marley fan, it's still a good watch.

The project's original director was to be Martin Scorsese (who did a good job with Bob Dylan and George Harrison). Then it got passed on to Jonathan Demme, and finally wound up in the hands of Kevin Macdonald. I wouldn't consider the guy who directed Channing Tatum in The Eagle to be an obvious choice for the gig, but he actually does a good job of telling the Marley story, from the man's birth to his all-too-early death.

I knew very little about Marley, other than his music, going into this one. The film is long, but it's not padded with music montages and concert footage (although it does have some). It's an honest, straightforward look at a complicated man who truly believed in the messages delivered by his songs.

Macdonald gets some great interviews, including Jimmy Cliff; Marley children Ziggy and Cedella; Marley's wife, Rita; and his mom, Cedella Marley-Booker (before her 2008 death). It's surprising to hear Ziggy speak of his dad as a rough, uncompromising guy who wouldn't give in just a little during footraces on the beach. I pictured Marley as an absolute sweetheart.

As it turns out, he was also quite the womanizer. While he was married to Rita, he had many affairs that brought forth other kids. The most notorious of his other relationships was with a former Miss World, Cindy Breakspeare, with whom he had a son, Damian.

The film devotes much time to Marley's declining years, when a problem with one of his toes turned out to be the manifestation of something far more sinister. Cancer spread through his body, and he died in 1981 at the age of 36.

Macdonald manages to interview the nurse who took care of Marley (whom she called "Bobby") in his dying days. Since I never really looked into the circumstances surrounding Marley's death, seeing it all laid out in the film was quite revelatory. His performed his last concert while very sick, and he had to cut off his dreads because they became too heavy for his head.

The movie is an absorbing, comprehensive look at his life, and it put me in the mood to check out Marley's music again. There's significant time dedicated to my personal favorite, "Redemption Song," penned by Marley after his cancer diagnosis. After seeing the film, it took on new significance for me.

The film features audio of Marley speaking on politics and God, and archival interviews. Footage culled from some of his performances, including one during which the stage was tear-gassed, reveals a man who clearly got into the zone when he was onstage. The band ran off before Marley even knew the tear gas had been sprayed.

Is Marley a bit long? Not for those who find the man fascinating—and after seeing Macdonald's heartfelt effort, I know a lot more about him. I'm grateful for that.

Rated PG-13 · 144 minutes · 2012
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Producer: Steve Bing, Charles Steel, Ziggy Marley and Chris Blackwell


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What others are saying (3)

East Bay Express Marley It's Bob's world. by Kelly Vance 04/18/2012
Charleston City Paper Marley is a touching portrait of the reggae idol In Kevin MacDonald's documentary, Marley, the famous Rasta is seen in a light rarely witnessed before, with all the pain, love, and desire encompassed therein. by Ryan Overhiser 05/18/2012
Pittsburgh City Paper Marley A new bio-doc zeroes in on legendary reggae performer Bob Marley by Al Hoff 04/18/2012

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