Academy Award winning director Kevin Macdonald (“A Day in September” and “The Last King of Scotland”), recently gave Sound Colour Vibration a few moments of his time while promoting his new film Marley, the definitive and family authorized documentary on the life of Bob Marley. Macdonald was off the coast of Venezuela on the small island of Curacuo and was more than gracious to chat with us about some of the finer details that surround his latest film Marley. Macdonald was very enthusiastic about his new film. This interview was filled with very a positive dialogue regarding the task of telling the tale of a great man. Clearly Kevin did not come into the position for a paycheck; his genuine love to uncover truth and re tell it to a large audience is undeniable and actually led him to rediscover his love for the musician as well. I enjoyed the time I spent conversing with him and I feel that this interview will allow our readers some insight towards the man who harnessed all of Bob Marley’s confidants, family and bandmates to tell the most intimate story made on the man to date.
“This man has this impact that goes on. He’s unlike any other popular musician. His impact, which is more than just being musical, it’s spiritual, it’s political. He’s a spokesman for the dispossessed [...]“
Kevin MacDonald Q&A With Sound Colour Vibration
Conducted By Jason Hedge
JH: Which members of the Marley family did you have the closest relationship with during the whole process of creating Marley?
KM: I guess the person who took point as it were was Ziggy Marley, whose Bob’s eldest son. I think it was kind of a personal passion of his to get this film and to have a film that was very personal and intimate made that was about Bob. Bob the man rather than Bob the myth.
JH: Did he give you any key points that he (Ziggy) wanted to emphasize?
KM: No, I’ve made rock and roll films before; I made one about Mick Jagger before and I’ve had a few scrapes with authority in those films and so I’m pretty wise about making sure I get to make the film I want to make. Ziggy was very enthusiastic to take part and very helpful in giving us family photographs and footage and helping get the other family involved. But he didn’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t say.
JH: What type production requirements were needed to capture the essence of Jamaica (the Arial shots), The Slave port in Ghana and the Footage of Bavaria?
KM: Well we shot this film on every format going for one reason or another. So the slave Fort at the beginning was in Ghana; it’s incredibly hot and humid there. We were worried about taking digital cameras so we shot that on 16mm because 35 was too bulky and heavy to carry over. We had a small documentary team so we shot that on Super16, you can see the grain there but it looks rather beautiful. It’s good at coping with those extreme contrast changes. Also, we shot some of the interviews on the Red camera, some of them on the Alexa and some of them on the Canon 5D. Than we shot bits and pieces on 35mm as well just for fun. Than the aerials were shot by a London company, excellent guys, called Flying Pictures. They’ve done Harry Potter and they’ve done War Horse. They have a small portable kit that you can fly pretty much anywhere in the world and one guys comes out with it on his own and works with a local helicopter pilot and that was how they captured those gorgeous shots. We were very lucky, we shot early in the morning then late in the afternoon with beautiful low light. We were lucky with real clarity which often you don’t get in the tropics, you get a sort of hazy like but we were very lucky.
JH: Where were you as a Bob Marley fan prior to making this film? Where were you during production as a fan? Where are you now as a fan? Do you have a favorite Bob Marley album?
KM: I was bit of a fan when I was a kid, when I was a teenager. One of the first handfuls of albums I ever bought was Uprising. I was struck, growing up in the Scottish wilderness as I did, by the melodies and sucked in by the melodies but kept listening because of the depth and rebelliousness, I suppose, of the lyrics and the lyrical content. Than there was always that mystical and the Rasta side, which I didn’t really understand. You know, whose Jah? Whose Halie Selassie? But maybe that gave it more of a mystique. Later in my life, I wasn’t a huge fan, I wasn’t the kind of person who would collect everything and listen to everything and watch everything. I liked it but I think everybody likes Bob Marley and really, I became more interested in him the person and in the legacy of him. When I was in Kampala in Uganda making a film called The Last King of Scotland, I went to the slums and I was introduced to all these Rastas and saw all these Bob Marley murals on the wall and I thought this is amazing.
This man has this impact that goes on. He’s unlike any other popular musician. His impact, which is more than just being musical, it’s spiritual, it’s political. He’s a spokesman for the dispossessed, so that was sort of fascinating to me. Than when I had the opportunity to make this film; I had already tried once before about seven or eight years ago, to make a film congenitally that had to do with Bob. It was going to be about Bob’s 60th birthday celebrations which were happening in Ethiopia and I was going to go with a plane load of Rastafarian’s out to Ethiopia from Jamaica and obviously just observe how they responded to being in Africa for the first time. What the reality of Ethiopia was like for them and also record some of the concert. That film didn’t happen but I got to know a few people including Chris Blackwell, Diane Jobson Bob’s lawyer. It was through them that I was recommended to the producer of this film a man called Steve Bing, who had negotiated and purchased the rights to the music to make a Bob Marley documentary from the Marley family and from Universal Music. I suppose I was a little bit skeptical about Bob going into the film.
I felt, and maybe a lot of people do, he’d been commodified to such an extent that something had been lost but as I got more and more into the research, as I learned more I began to admire him more and more. I began to see him as a very admirable man, as somebody who was not a hypocrite, who had never sold out really. He gave a lot of his money away, he slept in a single bed, he lived in a commune with the rest of his band, you know, all of that. And the way he was driven really by spiritual values, driven by the desire to get his music heard by a wide audience. I admire that rather than being driven by money and pure celebrity. So I began to admire him more and more. I began to listen to the music more and more and I think that’s the biggest testament I can say about Bob is the more you find out more about him the more you’re interested in him, the more you want to listen to the music. So I find myself by the end of the project listening to his music constantly, non stop.
The albums I like the best: Uprising, obviously because it’s the first one I heard but also I grew to love the material he did in the late 60′s, early 70′s. The slightly lesser known Marley, you know before Island Records. And probably the Soul Revolution album, I really like, which is produced by “Scarcth” Perry.
JH: If you were releasing the directors cut; what footage or interview(s) would you add to the film?
KM: That’s complicated. Well my first cut of this was over three hours long and I was contracted to make a two hour or less film but fortunately the producer and everyone agreed the best film was the important thing. Let’s make the film the best length so we ended up with this long film, two hours and twenty five minutes but it felt like we went through such an effort. We discovered so much stuff, wither it be footage or new versions of songs or just what people had to say to us. About a third of the interviewees had never spoken before in public about Bob. There was so much stuff it felt like nobodies going to get the chance to make this film again. I want to make it authoritative, I want to include as much as I can. So that’s what I did. I didn’t leave out that much. There are some things, there are a lot of great anecdotes of course that are going to be on the cutting room forever but I’ve actually included a lot on the DVD extras so there’s three or four songs from a previously unseen concert, there’s twenty minutes for of interview with Bunny Wailer, talking mostly what it was like working in the early days at Studio One. There’s more interviews with the family, with some of the kids. There’s a eight or nine minute song where Bob is creating a song and he’s jamming and he’s messing around with a couple of girls who he’s flirting with. You hear the real Bob, the off the record Bob, flirting with these girls creating a song in the spur of the moment in this kind of magical piece of audio. There’s a lot of things I’ve put on there so because of that, because of the wonders of the DVD extra, I don’t feel like I’m missing that much.
Marley will be screening by way of On Demand and the following theaters. This is a must see film for anyone who is looking to deepen their understanding of Bob Marley and the values, insights, revelations and virtues he instilled and contributed to this world.
Tempe, AZ: Valley Art 1 Theatre
Berkeley, CA: Shattuck Cinemas 10
Claremont, CA: Claremont 5
Los Angeles, CA: Cinefamily
North Hollywood, CA: Laemmle NoHo 7
Pasadena, CA: Playhouse 7 Cinemas
San Francisco, CA: Lumiere Theatre 3
San Jose, CA: Camera 3
San Rafael, CA: Smith Rafael Film Center
Santa Ana, CA: South Coast Village 3
Santa Cruz, CA: Nickelodeon Theatres
West Los Angeles, CA: The Landmark 12
Boulder, CO: Boulder Theatre
Denver, CO: Mayan Theatre
Washington, DC: E Street Cinema
Miami, FL: O Cinema
Atlanta, GA: Midtown Art Cinemas 8
Honolulu, HI: Kahala Theatres 8
Chicago, IL: Music Box
Cambridge, MA: Kendall Square Cinema 9
Grand Rapids, MI: Wealthy Theatre
Royal Oak, MI: Main Art Theatre
Minneapolis, MN: Lagoon Cinema
New York, NY: Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center
New York, NY: Sunshine Cinema 5
Portland, OR: Hollywood Theatre
Philadelphia, PA: Ritz at the Bourse
Pittsburgh, PA: Regent Square Theater
Providence, RI: Cable Car Cinema
Nashville, TN: Belcourt Theatre
Austin, TX: Violet Crown Cinemas
Dallas, TX: Angelika Film Center and Cafe
San Antonio, TX: Santikos Bijou Cinema Bistro 6
Seattle, WA: Harvard Exit Theatre
New Orleans, LA: Prytania Theatre
Christ Church, BB: Olympus Expo Theatres
Nassau, BH: Galleria Cinema 11
Paramaribo, SR: The Backlot Cinemas
Lowlands, TOB: Movietowne 4
Chaguanas, TRI: Movietowne Chaguanas 10
Port of Spain, TRI: Movietowne Port of Spain 10
San Fernando, TRI: Empire Cinema
Trincity, TRI: Trincity 8
St. John, ANT: Antigua Megaplex 8 Cinemas
Hato Rey, PR: Fine Arts Cafe Cinemas
Basseterre, St. Kitts, VI: St. Kitts Megaplex 7
St Thomas, VI: Market Square East
St. Croix, VI: Sunny Isles Theatre
St. Lucia, VI: Mega Plex 8 @ Choc Estate
Tortola, VI: Up’s Cinemas
Hamilton Hm 12 Bermuda, BM: Liberty Theatre
Madison, WI: Sundance Cinemas 608
Savannah, GA: Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah
Hamilton Hm 12 Bermuda, BM: Neptune Theatre
Long Beach, CA: Art Theater
Fort Collins, CO: Lyric Cinema Cafe 2
Columbia, MO: Ragtag Cinema
Springfield, MO: Moxie Cinema 2
Houston, TX: Sundance Cinemas 8
Tucson, AZ: The Loft Cinema
Durango, CO: Back Space Theatre
Dormont, PA: Hollywood Theatre
Spokane, WA: Magic Lantern Theatre
Portland, ME: Space Gallery
Columbus, OH: Gateway Film Center 8
New York, NY: The Maysles Cinema
Nevada City, CA: Nevada Theatre
Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Albuquerque, NM: Guild
Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Wilkes-Barre, PA: FM Kirby Center for Performing Arts
More dates coming soon!
Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley was and still is an international superstar. His death in 1981 cut his life and monumental career short but his music lives on and his popularity has grown exponentially. Not only did he leave 11 confirmed children behind, he left the legacy of bringing reggae music into the international spotlight. Bob Marley promoted the growth of the Rastafarian religion, that was before the 70′s, only known on his tiny island of Jamaica. His spirit has resonated through many cultures, generations and even armed conflict. All who love his music have their own reasons for identifying with the man; some feel his music is a universal truth and to others his music incites a sense of self-determination. Up until this point, the most detailed account of Bob Marley’s life has been chronicled through the eyes of Rita (his wife) in her book: No Woman No Cry and other attempts have been made in the past to document portions of Marley’s career as well. Whether it was record companies or bootleggers in the prior attempts, most releases have fallen short of accurately or completely displaying Bob’s whole story. Everything about that last sentence is about to change come April 20, 2012 when Marley enters into the consciousness of the eyes and ears of the world.
Marley, the new documentary by Academy award winning director Kevin Macdonald is of course based on the late reggae superstar Bob Marley and displays in genuinely perfect balance the singer/songwriter and musicians life from the cradle to the grave. The goal of this documentary was to find out as the director put it: “Why does he still speak to people around the world (because he clearly does) and why does he speak to people so much more profoundly than any other rock artist or popular music artist?” This question has not been answered by or even asked in any Bob Marley movies this reviewer has seen. This film goes above and beyond that scope. Not only does this movie show the motivation behind Bob’s sound, as an audience we are allowed intimate views into the reasons behind Bob’s lyric writing, relationships, sports, religion, politics, family, his role to his community and so many other areas of his life. Interviews from people that knew Bob best are included; whether it be band mates, room mates, lovers or family; a new perspective is laid out on Robert Nesta Marley as the world has never seen before. Many of the people interviewed had their own individual view of Bob as a man; this created a process of evaluation towards the interviews to create a linear story that was substantiated by correlation rather than face value. Bob Marley had the sense to not hold business agreements as paramount with his handling of his associates; (in business, personal affairs and life mates) so with his early passing those who relied on him had to sort out the issues with him leaving no formal will. Directly affecting the type of memories his band mates and family remembered due to the period of uncertainty after his death; this was barely and briefly mentioned in the film; which was definitely in good taste and I assume done to not take away from the greatness that was achieved by Bob Marley. Our screening access from the Bob Marley foundation to the prestigious Charles Aidikoff Screening Room in Beverley Hills this month provided one of the most marvelous settings to witness this film. As the screening room for some of the first screenings of Stars Wars from George Lucas among many other genre defining film, the rooms atmosphere set the stage high for Marley. With all expectations set to the highest level, Kevin Macdonald’s Marley instantly became the greatest documentary I had ever seen and a new guide book to how documentaries of this much weight and cultural important should be made.
Vivid imagery, footage never seen before, audio that has been cleaned up and given new life; all elements of Marley are on full display and left me without a single complaint the two plus hours the movie lasts. Songs that have been heard countless numbers of times sound sonically enhanced; something that pushed the music to a new level and gave Bob’s music an even new light. The opening track from the film, ‘Exodus’ is exposed for the driving beat of the bass drum more so than ever. With a stroke of pure genius, advanced editing techniques were used during the montages; the photos were presented in a manner that almost animated still images to fill in for the periods that little to no footage existed of Marley. 3-d photo imaging is bringing photos to life in a new way and this is one of the first films on Bob to extensively use this technology. Even BBC recordings that are relatively common and the most wide spread are given new light not to mention the rare recordings that receive a superb clean up and put in context with the reason the songs were created. New, current footage of Jamaica is shot very well and shows the island in its many states. The flyer over of the mountain side village that Bob grew up at really presents his upbringing potently is another reason why this film is so unique. There is an element with the focus on the mist in the mountains that Bob’s soul is ever present in the spirit of Jamaica. Interviews are done in a manner that make the viewer feel as if they are with the person speaking and engaging in the conversation and not just being spoken to. Also, the interviews are not the typical standard backdrop and stool environments; these are given the treatment of putting the subjects in their own environment. This allows the director to evoke pure interviews due to the comfort level. The overall treatment of the documentary is above and beyond visually appealing as I had no choice but to maintain attention through the duration of this extended length documentary.
Also worth noting, the creation of Marley rested upon Executive Producer and eldest son Ziggy Marley. Ziggy was very enthusiastic about the creation of this movie. He stated: ”There’s been a lot of things done on Bob, I think this one will give people a more emotional connection to Bob’s life as a man. Not just a reggae legend or a mythical figure, but his life as a man, you know?” This is the first movie on Bob that is approved by the estate of Marley and the help from the family is prevalent in the amount of knowledge and insight given to the audience. Executive Producer Chris Blackwell, Bob Marley and the Wailers’s producer that had a huge hand in helping the group become international superstars, has very important insights in this film. Insights that become very crucial to understanding how Bob Marley got his sound off the island of Jamaica. Blackwell knew what it was like to work with a mature Bob, he also new of the period of great transition since he oversaw the loss of Peter and Bunny and only to gain the I-Threes and Bob as a front man. Blackwell knew of the “Pasteurization” that occurred with his meddling in the music to make it more palatable for international ears. This is a great admission to the next section of Marley since this was part of the reason the Wailers were known in full after Peter and Bunny’s departure as Bob Marley and the Wailers. Relationships unfold and expand and the window of Bob Marley is more personal and inviting than ever before. I could not help but think right away that this is a film that everyone of all generations should experience as the inspirational power of Bob Marley’s legacy is needed in the world more than ever. Below is SCV’s extensive breakdown of Marley from Academy award winning director Kevin Macdonald.
Marley opens up with a beautiful shot of fisherman off the coast of Western Africa. The establishing shot that follows reveals that the beach is directly in front of a colonial slave post in Ghana. From this point most Africans were sent abroad for the purpose of slavery. There is a stark reminder of the finality; the interior of the fortress’s door stated: “Door of no return”. From this doorway it is estimated that 60 million Africans were relocated against their will and forced to work as a slave for the rest of their existence. Once the initial connection is made we are transported to Jamaica, beautiful aerial shots of the hills surrounding 9 mile (Bob Marley’s birthplace) are presented in glorious fashion following a very in depth photo montage of Bob set to ‘Exodus’. Bob’s first schoolteacher opens the films setting in Jamaica by speaking of his knack for being a musical child. Once we hear the first interview from the man himself, the viewer will be quick to notice the use of sub-titles to help the general population or non-patois understanding audience hear Bob’s words. Interviews with Rita Marley and Bunny (Wailer) Livingston reveal the discrimination Bob endured even from his own people due to his multiracial background. Since Bob was half black and half white, he stood out in the population around him for his light complexion. His own family would force him to do work as a child that was work suited for adults if he wanted a meal everyday. With his background displayed clearly in terms of his work ethic at a very young age, color is added in full in Marley to the dedication needed to be a musician in the Jamaican island nation when Bob was a youth. Instruments had to be handmade, guitars made from bamboo with stolen copper wire strings and drums made from cut down trees with calf skin heads, there wasn’t a Guitar Center that you could obtain your tools of expression with. An instrument called a “Rumba Box” would be created by bending three pieces of metal and attaching them to a box with a hole cut out to resonate. The only plentiful instrument was a banjo since so many had been shipped to the island for the colonizers consumption. This instrument is given a very bright focus and shows the type of sounds Bob was absorbing at the time, something the film achieves with the usage of archived clips and music from that era that Bob had nothing to do with creating. With the background given on Bob’s rural upbringings, the focus is then shifted once Bob turns 12 and his Mother moves him to the much more populated Kingston, Jamaica.
Cedella Booker (Bob’s Mother) decided to move herself and Bob to the ex slave port of Kingston. The photos of her in the film show a very strong women, a women of course who created one of the most influential people in modern times. As the film transitions from Bob’s rural upbringings and into his teen years, the film presents the first known photo of Bob taken. This film achieves a window of resurrection of his undocumented years in the most creative fashion with photos like this and many others. The film leaves no room in covering up the fact that little has been documented from his early years. We are told as an audience that there is no video and very few photos of Bob or his bands until 1972 as this was due to the economic circumstances in Jamaica in that period. As Bob would expand his horizons and gain more press, the documentation became heavier and heavier in the film for footage.
Bob’s musical career as a solo artist began and ended abruptly with his release of “Judge Not”. It proved to not sell well and the film shows how Bob had to rethink his approach. He sang with his classmate Neville “Bunny” Livingston and they eventually found a guitarist who played third part to add harmony. This was a tall and seasoned musician by the name of Peter McIntosh. Under the guidance of Joe Higgs, the film breaks down the formation of the groups new name The Wailers and their first musings as a new unit. The Wailers were able to get an early single and ska song named “Simmer Down” to become a top hit and as the film highlights, it was in every jukebox in Jamaica in 1964. During this period, Bob gained employment as a welder and that is where he met Desmond Dekker (another famous Jamaican singer that gained US airplay before The Wailers). Bob was becoming known wide and far on his island and he knew he would get off the island from his music well before he did. Bob’s Mother Cedella left to go live in the US when he was 17 years old and this was a period of self discovery for Marley as he started his journey into Rastafarianism. Mortimer Planno, a high priest of sorts in the religion took Bob directly under his wing at this point and the teachings, ideas and groundings of these experiences would stay with Bob until the moment he left this earth. With Bob’s new found guidance, this also allowed him more peace within his own skin as Rastafarianism provided Bob with a vehicle to be accepted as a man, rather than have to prove himself under any one nationality. The interview clip with Bob Marley explaining the strength he had to gather to find himself is marvelous in position of the other footage and interviews. This film pulls interviews from a very crucial point of his career when he had gained critical acclaim and was more aware of the person he had become. Bob also found Rastafarian guidance in Planno to fill the void created in the absence of his father, an element to the film that brought tears to my eyes when seeing the type of rejection he felt from his fathers family. The other change in Bob during this time was his courtship with his eventual wife Rita. Her accounts of Bob are priceless and really show the man that Bob was and the type of human connection that everyone around the world can identify with. She described Bob as “reserved” and “shy” and her charismatic way of explaining her history with Bob was of the most honorable level. The romance Rita began with Bob started with Bob actually giving Rita a letter describing his feelings due to his timidness since he at the time was not out spoken enough to actually tell her himself. This one of the many areas of the film that really pulled me in and really made me feel how personal and impression giving this film was going to get.
A notable and somewhat heart wrenching moment in the film was a portion with Bob’s half-sister Constance. Bob had tried to get help from his fathers side of his family in the late 60′s. This was of course the European side of his family whom had a thriving business on the island. The family that was truly Bob’s and who he had approached turned him down and the family did not even believe Bob and his claims of who his father was. The type of resonance that speaks out when you realize Bob took this horrifying experiencing and turned it into a positive one with the creation of a song is surreal. After being denied from his fathers side of the family he then went on to create “Cornerstone”. This song was played for Constance and also for Bob’s second cousin from the “European Marley’s” and it is shown on film their reactions while listening with headphones. His half sister humbly and in a almost breaking down mood reveals how she feels it is remarkable that Marley is his name around the world now. The lyrical meaning of “Cornerstone” was put in context to the two from the interviewer and it had an astounding affect on them both (and the theater). You could feel them realize what they had done and the type of people they were raised by. To feel them transition and realize this, it’s a moment of cinematic history that struck me in the throat and still does when thinking about it. The films transitional passage of key singles and gigs for the Wailers is never ending and his life shapes into a way never seen during this period of the 60′s and very early 70′s. After Bob tried to make a career at the legendary Studio One, Bob was frustrated with living on the studio property and not making any money (as this was the case for most Studio One artists). Bob tried his luck in the states and landed in Delaware, an unlikely place for someone of his talents, however this would give Bob access to sounds around the world he would never have dreamed of hearing in Jamaica. While in Delaware, Bob worked for the Chrysler plant driving a forklift and this is where he was inspired to write the song ‘Night Shift’. After months of working and staying in the basement practicing his guitar, Bob was ready to go back home for more “freedom” and to find himself even more. The films use of archival photos and videos that date each other perfectly shows how much of a different type of man Bob was becoming, nothing I have ever seen achieved with as much clarity to every part of the story. Not even into the height of his career and their is a deep understanding on the wisdom, experiences and walks of life Bob Marley gathered that would culminate in such a strong and energetic force musically.
Once Bob was back in Jamaica from his small travels to the States, Bob had a new found fire to promote and distribute his own records. Bob knew all the best sound system crews, dj’s and other musical icons of the island that created the grid of music interaction in Jamaica. The one who really designed sound in a completely new way and someone Bob was able to break out further into the public with was the always-entertaining Lee “Scratch” Perry. At this time Bob, Bunny and Peter would ride around the island on bikes and sell their records. Jamaican music had a hard time getting play on the local radio stations and the film highlights in the most honest way how The Wailers took this into their own hands. You would think this is Chess Records by the story that ensues as the group literally strong armed the most in demand DJ’s in Jamaica until they gained airplay. After Wailers tunes made it on the radio, they picked up momentum in the UK and the Wailers made it there to do some shows. This was the beginning of the end for the original Wailers. Producer and record owner Chris Blackwell found out where they were playing in the UK from all the buzz and he arranged a meeting with the group that tour. At the time the Wailers agreed to do an album for 4,000 pounds and Blackwell paid them on the spot. After the agreement, a series of promotional tours were to follow. The division of the original Wailers begins to show in the documentary as Peter and Bunny were very mistrusting and hesitant to go any further due to Bob being made the focal point of the group. The intricacy of marketing, label politics and the bands inner relationships is given a heightened feeling. The pace of the montage clips is always consistent with the mood and subject matter through the movie and this was the first section of the film that I realized how balanced the account of Bob’s life was in Marley. First Bunny left the band (being replaced by mentor Joe Higgs for a brief period) after he learned that the band was going to play in “Freak clubs” and there would be no pay for the second leg of the “Catch a Fire” tour. Peter followed a short time later due to the lack of his own solo work being ignored and the relationship of everyone is a focal point of the film that brings the film to the next big era of his career. This was the official end of the Wailers and the beginning of the new Bob Marley and the Wailers.
By 1974, the Wailers embarked on the Natty Dread tour, the second outing for the group on their new label Island Records. Bass player Aston “Family Man” Barrett recalled the very first show as a “Dynamite” performance. This new revamped version of the band included more sound than the original band with inclusion of the female backing vocal talents of the I-Threes, percussion and lead guitars. The pace of the film never seems unbalanced and even this far into his career, the level of anticipation is marvelous when realizing how many areas of the world this documentary has already touched on. By 1975, the group had reached new critical acclaim and was professionally recorded during a performance at London’s Lyceum Theater. The show, like so many during that era, was over sold and the energy from the crowd was passed to the band in full from how Rita Marley recounts in detail in the film. This was the official kick start to send Bob into the upper ranks of music on a world stage. The Island recording studio and house in Jamaica then became Bob’s house for business and rehearsal after this period as the group loved it there. The film shows what the house looks like now with stunning wood floors, multiple levels and a beautiful passageway to the house itself. Bob Marley and family residence proved to, as Bob states, “Bring the Ghetto up town”. It was also known for being “A Spot” as Cedella Marley called it due to the amount of people constantly hanging out and the open door policy. It was at this headquarters that Bob would play music, play soccer, exercise, eat cultural and religious (ital) food and discuss politics that would shape his thinking. The residence at the Island house or more commonly known to the people of Jamaica 56 Hope Road was within a few houses of the prime minister of Jamaica. This location is also where Bob would give a lot of his monetary gains back to the people. Neville Garrick, Bob’s artistic supervisor stated that Bob wouldn’t just give people a few dollars; he would give them enough to take care of themselves and their families. No matter where you are at in this film, it takes you deep inside the psyche and overall meaning of so many important parts to Bob Marley’s life and this section highlights how giving Bob was to his people in Jamaica. With these new understandings, the music becomes even more potent with songs from the Wailers new releases that have a feeling even heavier than before. Bob’s attraction to the ladies was also given a haven in Marley. His Girlfriend and eventual Miss Jamaica Cindy Blackspeare is one of the authorities presented in the film about the on goings at 56 Hope Road.. By this point in the film, the introduction of live concert material finds its way more and more into the film and the raw power of Bob Marley and The Wailers is presented in high definition and spiritual power.
As the film transitions into the year of 1976, there is a clear defining representation given on how Jamaica was taken over by political violence. Bob had agreed to play a free show in Jamaica to create a cease fire among waring political factions and he did. There is an interview given with one of the heads of these factions and the type of picture he paints is very dark and truly allowed me to feel how dangerous and real this time was. During the preparations for this huge concert, The Wailers were practicing at their Hope Road band house nightly with official state secret service on the premises. On the evening before the concert, security was abnormally absent and there was a shooting that occurred while the band was rehearsing. The gunmen hit Bob, Rita and their tour manager and luckily they all survived the attempt on their lives. The film shifts to one of many climaxes at this point. There was much discussion within the group if they were even going to perform for Jamaica still or if they should leave the island for safety reasons. The films tone shades into a very deep and dark vibe as the picture is painted of a very bleak reality that was now placed on Bob Marley and those he loved the most. Bob was unwilling to leave the island before his performance scheduled and insisted on performing. He felt that Jah would protect him and if taking him was a part of the plan, it was something he fully accepted. During the concert, Bob spoke of this recent event and even opened up his shirt, revealing his wounds to the crowd. This footage has existed in the public realm for years and the clean up job on the audio and video brings the power of this experience to a new euphoric high. It’s truly a pivotal moment in the history of Bob Marley. Rita Marley was very revealing about the situation in stating that Bob leaving the island after this concert wasn’t out of fear but from feeling hurt that his own people would attempt to take his life and those closest to him. It wasn’t long after the shooting Bob fled to Nassau and then to live in exile in London. The weight of the film levels out and the scope of Bob’s happiness is rejuvenated after the film begins to explore his time in London and the rising popularity of his music.
Once in London, the Chelsea district to be exact; Bob and the Wailers all live in the same house with everyone living on their own floor. The film speaks about English pro football players who would routinely scrimmage Bob and company. Word is that the Wailers would actually win some matches here and there. Of really interesting importance was when Junior Marvin describes a unique recording technique Bob used during this time. As Bob’s lead guitarist and back up singer, Junior Marvin mentions Bob only slept an average of four hours a day because he loved to get up early in the morning and record due to the raspy sound in his voice. This is the period, however, when Bob would endure an injury that would stay with him until his last day. While in France and playing soccer in a park, Bob had his foot stepped on by a cleat of an opposing player. Bob simply had it checked, wrapped it up and kept playing daily. Months later this same injury would be diagnosed with melanoma. Located in his big toe, Bob was advised to get either the toe or his whole leg amputated. Not wanting to do any off that due to Rastafarian beliefs and the fear of not being able to dance or play soccer Bob sought a second opinion. He found a doctor that believed if they just cut off the infected area, Bob would be able to keep his toe and prevent the spread of cancer through out his body. He went along with the least invasive method and this was affirmed by his circle of advisers and looked down upon by his family and close friends. Those closest to Bob all agree that Bob was getting very bad advice, a part of the film that moves in emotion and feeling once again. The album Exodus was the main focus of this period and was a defining album for this timeless musician. Every section of the film highlights in great detail each album and the footage of the ‘Is This Love’ music video, Bob’s first into the new format of media, is some of the most charismatic and joyous footage with Bob. The inclusion of this video in this documentary was a perfect touch.
By 1978, Bob was approached by the conflicting political parties in Jamaica to do another peace concert. With many new areas of growth in Bob’s band’s catalog, the late 70′s became a very energized period for Bob and his people and he always kept love for his island of Jamaica, regardless of the attempt on his life there. Bob was quoted as saying: “My life is important only if I can help many people”, this was to the affirmation that he would go ahead and organize and promote a peace concert. When Bob returned to Jamaica, his plane was surrounded by people just as Hailie Selassie’s was when he came to Jamaica, a reprise of the beginning of the film that focuses on the time when Hailie Selassie visited Jamaica and the effects it had on everyone. This was a powerful lift for Bob and his intentions. When the concert finally took place, Bob called for an impromptu meeting of the different political parties of the time. Political leaders Edward Seega and Michael Manley come center stage and shake hands and Bob raises their hands over his body and in his own while communicating to the crowd. It’s one of those hair raising moments when you feel what Bob’s importance was to this world every second that transpired. Bob was truly a man of unity in this action. He was able to accomplish in 30 seconds what a year of violence and negotiations could not do. The film also takes a lot of time to allow Bob’s kids that he raised himself to account for the type of atmosphere they experienced in his world. From perspectives of their father’s relationship with their mother to the politically heated situations that grew as Bob’s status grew, Bob Marley as a father and not a mystic is finally given proper honorable light. During the visit Bob took to Jamaica, Bob took his kids to Trenchtown as he always did when he returned to Jamaica. The film points out that he would go out of his way to prove his trust in his people by leaving his vehicle unlocked, showing his lack of spiritual importance in material goods. Bob was quoted saying: “My richness is life forever”, his spirituality was so strong that he knew earthly goods were only part of his earnings and the rest would be provided for him in the afterlife.
“Reggae music will get bigger and bigger and bigger till it reaches the right people!” – Bob Marley
The film is at full speed at this point, shifting through the stardom Bob was reaching and highlighting in micro detail, so many new parts to this complex story that have never been revealed. In late 1978, Bob and The Wailers played to two million people in six weeks during their tours in Europe. They even played a sold out show in Japan to four-thousand people that knew ever lyric even though they could not speak English. The film then touches on an element of Bob’s story that I think is really relevant by today’s standards. Even with all of this success, Bob was still wondering why his audience was still primarily white? At the time of his questioning, he was offered to play shows in Gabon for the groups very first performance in Africa. Bob agreed to perform as the honor was huge to be asked to play in Africa even though he didn’t understand the nature of the Ruler (or Dictator) who invited him. Once in Gabon, Bob Marley and the Wailers were contracted to play a few shows for a nominal fee and quickly Bob befriended the daughter of the ruler. The film becomes very dark at this point as Bob was able to find out that he was being lied to from his manager about the fee charged for the group playing in Africa. Bob was very excited about the chance to get on the continent and that was deflated when Bob found out that the promoters had been grossly overcharged. To add insult to injury the manager that arranged this essentially took the excess money for his own purposing. Bob and the band later questioned the manager for excess of three hours. They reportedly record the manager and ask him the same question a half an hour later and rewind the tape to show him being caught in lies. During the time of the interrogation of the manager from the Wailers, the band allegedly held the manager out of their 23rd story balcony to get the real story and he was subsequently fired for the dishonesty. The importance of Bob to the world that his ancestors came from is felt in full and you realize Bob might have threw him off that balcony if he had disrespected Africa in his name on any worst level. A man of extremes, both very warm in heart and very cold if forced into that position, this was a man who took complete control of his surroundings and left no apology for his actions. Bob was very excited to finally play in Africa and the reaction of the group speaking about the bands reactions to this is priceless. For the most part, they didn’t know how to react to the shows since the citizens of Gabon didn’t applaud at the end of songs or during the shows for that matter.
By 1980, Bob Marley and the Wailers were in full swing after releasing Survival and Uprising, two politically charged albums that took the importance of Bob to new heights. During April of that year Bob Marley and the Wailers were asked to come and perform at the independence ceremony for Zimbabwe. This is a period of the group that I have studied extensively as the groups travels were documented in great detail by audience recordings, soundboard recording releases, tons of press and so forth. Bob was at a fierce pace and the live footage included during this era really shows Bob and the group pushing each other to the max. New synthesizers were in place, but the spiritual and politically charged ethos of their roots and rhythms are as present and clear as ever. This film captures this era in the most sublime way, showing how important Bob was becoming by the month. The revolutionaries of Zimbabwe used the song “Zimbabwe” as a motivation for their efforts and this was very moving to Marley. With Bob’s own money in place to make the flight with gear possible, Bob and the Wailers agreed to do this historic concert in Zimbabwe and the band was slated to perform at the national stadium in the new nation. Lined with foreign dignitaries, the stadium was at capacity and there were 90,000 people outside who didn’t get a chance to get in. As soon as the Wailers took the stage, the 90,000 who couldn’t get in let themselves in and the security forces on the inside started using tear gas. This affected everyone in attendance including the band as the winds blew the gas towards the band as well. Everyone of course fled the stage with the exception of Bob. He was so into the performance that even with his eyes and throat burning he didn’t notice that the whole band had evacuated already. The films passage in this hectic situation never looses balance as Bob was stridently accounted as saying “Now we no who are the true revolutionaries”. This was of course in response to people fleeing the scene and the group coming back on stage with Bob to finish the set for the 100,000+ who were now in attendance.
When Bob returned to the states, his vision of connecting with African Americans became a reality as well as he had made deals with black oriented music radio stations to play his music. Bob was always willing to sacrifice on any level for his music to reach more people, it was because of this that he agreed to take a lesser role as up opening for the less popular The Commodores. The stage was set very high yet again for Bob at the famous Madison Square Garden in New York and the audience Bob was aiming for met his vibrations with great and raving reception. After blowing the roof off of The Madison Square Garden the night before, Bob and a few of his friends participated in a typical morning jog through Central Park. The movie becomes very dark again as they portray the story of when Bob collapsed in Central Park and the condition of his toe injury had come back full circle in his life. He seemed to have had a seizure and came out of it saying “Jah Rastafari!”. Everyone interviewed about this was shocked as they realized something went through him as he jumped up after collapsing and was on his feet like nothing happened. Bob was later checked by a doctor and was delivered the news that cancer had spread through out his entire body. The news was crushing as it was everywhere you could imagine and the affects were soon to come to a crashing apex. Bob was one of the most determined people in this world and this film honors that determination in every way possible. Bob would play his final show September 23rd, 1980 in Pittsburg Pennsylvania and the band was informed prior to the start of the set that that would be there last show. Put yourself inside of this situation knowing it’s the last show and the world you cultivated through this momentum has come to a hault from forces you can’t control. It was a very sad moment in Marley that left me stuck to my seat. Sound check reportedly lasted almost threes hours by Rita’s account and the Wailers just played the same song, “I am Hurting Inside”. The recording of the show epitomizes the feeling of the band and Marley himself as he went on to perform not one but two encores that night. Rita Marley accounts how she was surprised that he didn’t fall over dead after that show as she knew how much he gave that day. The film’s gravity starts to sink emotionally further and further at this rate as you realize what is slipping away from such an important person to this world.
With his life on the line Bob decided to head off to Bavaria to a holistic hospital as at the time the head doctor there was one of the first to cure cancer. Bob went on the trip with Neville Garrick, a very close friend to Bob. Garrick referred to the temperatures in Bavaria as: “A fridge to keep people alive”. Marley was in high spirits despite everything tangible proving otherwise, a type of strength that was inspiring to realize existed in him still. Bob used chemotherapy to treat his cancer and this led to his hair falling out. Unable to deal with the pain of his dreads and what he earlier explains in the film in a candid interview as his identity, he elected to shave his head and deal with it all at once and not strand by strand. This was done ceremoniously with his girlfriend Cindy Blackspeare and his wife Rita. Rita read passages from the bible under candlelight. Bob celebrated one last birthday after suffering a stroke on his left side and the film incorporates photos, music and interviews to put as much closure and understanding on this aspect of his life as possible. Footage never released from this time is used in the film and it is very moving to see all of the people around Bob giving him all the love they could not knowing how much longer he would make it. After the stroke, Bob’s spirits fell considerably since he could no longer play guitar or sing properly. After Bob was deemed untreatable he was moved to spend the rest of his days in Miami at a Hospital. Here he was able to see his children and the visits were all filled with many people and nobody was able to really get time alone with the man. This is further explained by Marley’s daughter Cedella, a voice of reason that sheds a lot of new light into the man known as Bob Marley.
Robert Nesta Marley breathed his last breathe May 11th 1981 and I thought the inclusion of Neville Garrick speaking about the lack of a will being purposely planned by Bob to expose the true personality of those closest to him was the most honest thing that could have been placed in that section. The footage of his funeral, the general feeling of wake and the joy the people in thousands had during the service brought this film to a stunning apex. You get a true reality check that Bob was a man who really knew that as much love as he gave into the world, he knew not everyone in his circles would feel the same once it was time to get money for the estate and Bob’s legacy, something that is universal to all dealings of money and family.
As a Bob Marley fan, historian and musician, I will frankly say that this movie is and will be the most definitive collection and display of Bob Marley’s life in one location. Marley was originally being worked on by Martin Scorsese but his scheduling conflicted with further work and the documentary would fall in the hands of director Jonathan Demme shortly after. Creative differences would see his involvement stop in 2009 and Kevin Macdonald took the job and has made one of the most comprehensive and engaging documentaries ever made. It’s almost as if fate required the film to fall through the hands it did and for Kevin Macdonald to to bring it all together. Nothing in this film seems artificial, I went into this review waiting for tiny fragments to rip apart and I walked out with nothing in that regard. This movie is a triumph in the realm of documentaries. The purpose of the film was to not only show the walking steps of a man in a historical context but was to find out how Bob speaks to so many people across the world still. Marley exemplifies a multitude of realities that rarely come across this potently in a documentary. Bob’s world is superbly given the 35mm life, with a driving soundtrack and heartfelt accounts of a man that has had so many different stories told about him. For Marley fans, passive listeners, non fans and those who know nothing of the man; I am making a call for all of you alike to go and witness the inspiring story of a man that touched so many and continues to do so today. This is a movie that is going to have deeply resonating effects in the music community and the world in general. Regardless of the information that you may collect here, in books or other sources of information regarding the history of Bob Marley, this documentary presents the man in a visual aesthetic that is unmatched and has to be experienced to believe. Be prepared to be blown away by the efforts that are clearly on display in Kevin Macdonald’s soon to be award winning documentary Marley.