“Marley” was one of the highlighted feature documentaries here at South by Southwest this week. “Marley” was directed by Kevin McDonald, director of the widely acclaimed “Last King of Scotland.” It was displayed to a packed house at the lovely Paramount Theatre to a growing amount of buzz, with a line stretching around the block — and then some.
The film chronicles the life and times of international Reggae superstar Bob Marley. The movie does a great job at creating a sense of connection with its subject, in particular of explaining Marley’s Rastafarian beliefs and knocking the whole “stoner myth” off its moorings.
If I learned one thing, it was that being Bob Marley was a difficult task, which in turn made him a complex individual. The man survived an assassination attempt, and yet, what dogged him the most was that at the height of his international superstardom, the faces that were looking back at him did not look like him. This pursuit sends him to Africa to mixed results.
The good: The musical interplay between Marley and the challenges and triumphs he encountered play out seamlessly. Unlike other biographies in the past relating to Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon or Jim Morrison, this one comes closer to being even-handed, but not close enough for my liking. It is a good thing to shine your idols to the light, and not pretend as if you owe them money.
The bad: Unless you really, really, really want every detail from Bob Marley’s life you will find that this documentary runs a bit long, as it clocks in at 2 hours and 24 minutes. Like most documentaries, this movie starts making excuses for Marley. For example, when it is revealed that he had 11 different children, it is explained away with a “Bob was going to be Bob” nuance. His wife, Rita Marley, looks so visually uncomfortable as she remembers those days.
The reaction people at the theatre had: It was somewhat hard to tell, because it seemed I was locked in with hundreds of Bob Marley apologists – needless to say, they ate it up. The funniest, or rather most ironic, thing was the audience reflected the same audience from the concert footage.
I feel that this movie will be popular among Marley fans and self-appointed Rastafarian hipters. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this film will essentially become the definitive authority on Bob Marley – much how Oliver Stone’s “The Doors” became the gospel of Jim Morrison and spawned a generation of summer leather jacket-wearing alcoholic poets. I do not think this will be the case with this film, but the tongue-in-cheek release date of April 20 is not lost on anyone. In other words, I do not feel that this movie will win Mr. Marley any new fans. Yet my question is why it took this movie so long to be made – but now that it is here, it is worth at least a viewing.