Featuring: Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Chris Blackwell, Cindy Breakespeare, Lee Perry, Danny Sims, Allan Cole, Rita Marley, Lee Jaffe and Constance Marley.
Director: Kevin McDonald
Running time : 145 minutes
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Mon 11 Jun 9.30pm; Sun 17 Jun 9.30pm.
Taping into the details of another larger-than-life figure taken too early from this world, Kevin McDonald chills out considerably with Marley, his look at the life of the Rastafarian icon. As EP on the acclaimed documentary Senna, he held on for dear life as Asif Kapadia's vision hurtled forward, driven by the dynamic life and personality of its subject matter. Assuming the directorial reins here, his vast account of the music legends life ambles along with the laid-back vibe of a reggae king.
Clocking in at a sprawling, occasionally saggy 145 minutes, McDonald has masterfully collated archival footage and still photos to provide insight into a life that began in the mountain village of St Ann in the Jamaican hinterland, conquered the world of music, and ended sadly in the US. Unlike Senna, which was entirely comprised of found-footage, McDonald has peopled Marley with a great many friends, family and colleagues.
Some of the recounting runs the emotional gamut; Marley’s daughter Cedella remembering how she could not be alone with her father as he passed because of his followers is gruelling on her and the audience. But too many talking heads also serves to blur any strong defining portrait, casting a wide net over opinion ultimately strengthening his enigmatic legend rather who the man was when alive.
There is a valid concern that several persons interviewed are also the film’s producers, notably son Ziggy and ex-producer Chris Blackwell. There is a nagging sense that the film was never intended to be a tell-all but rather a thinly-veiled monument to the man; his estate still pulls in millions of dollars a year.
McDonald also fails to create any real drama in the telling of Marley’s life. Senna clashed with everybody and that film pulsed with conflict; Marley danced and sang with presidents, was shot at and bedded many women, but the film coasts past key events, seemingly content to reflect the musician’s ambivalence to the events of his life and how they impacted those around him.
Perhaps fittingly, the film becomes all about the music. Its inspired creation, passionate playing and global reach indicates his artistry and spirituality transcended his chosen sound, even his talent. Marley’s best moments come from it touching upon the essence of a man whose life-long commitment to optimism and faith resonated with millions.