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Marley (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 145 minutes.

OK for children.

When I first went to the Virgin Islands to conduct business there several decades ago, I was warned about the inhabitants' calypso patois. After I arrived, while it was sometimes difficult to comprehend, it was musical to listen to. Whenever they spoke I felt as if I were at a concert. It was more than charming.

This documentary about Reggae singer/songwriter Bob Marley, directed by Kevin Macdonald, is set mostly in Marley's native Jamaica. The story is told through interviews with the people who knew him best and archival footage. They all speak the Jamaican patois. Because some of their accents are so heavy, sometimes what they say is shown in subtitles, as if they were speaking a foreign language. I felt that all of the dialogue should have been subtitled because it is extremely difficult to understand. Even so, it is magical to listen to them speak.

Made with the unprecedented cooperation of the Marley family this is as complete a biography as you could expect. It gives a little background of Marley's parents and grandparents and then shows something of his childhood in a Jamaican slum.

The first part of the film is narrated through interviews with Neville "Bunny" Livingston, the only survivor of The Wailers, the breakthrough group Marley formed early in his career with Bunny and Peter Tosh, who tells Marley's story from 1961 through 1973. Neville Garrick, the wailers artistic director, who was with Marley through the remainder of his life takes over after Bunny left The Wailers in 1973 when he split from the band.

Making McDonald's task difficult is that there is no archival film footage of The Wailers performances through 1973, since they were just a local Jamaican band. The story is told using archival photographs with Marley's music as a background. Also interviewed is Marley's wife and several of his girlfriends, including Miss World.

Marley was of mixed race; his father was white and his mother was black, and several of his close friends explained that that was a stigma that Marley felt deeply. The film also traces his belief in Rastafarianism and how it influenced his life.

McDonald does an exceptional job of presenting Marley in a way that the audience gets to know him. He became a huge political force in Jamaica and this is also reflected in the film. But he wasn't perfect. He had skewed morality, fathering 11 children with seven different women. His daughter by his wife displays how much she was hurt by his relationship with her by her attitude in being interviewed for the film.

This is a fascinating tale told by people who know how to tell a story, accompanied by wonderful music. My main objection to the film is that Marley's music is shown in short clips, instead of complete songs. But that's a minor criticism, and he wrote so much music that the film is filled with it. You get to know Bob Marley, but you don't get to know his music, and that's a shame.