tue 21/11/2017

DVD: Marley | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Marley

DVD: Marley

A rich, poetic, balanced biography of the reggae legend

'Marley': a heart as hard as stone and as soft as water

It’s remarkable how many of the 20th century's most culturally significant popular musicians – from Louis Armstrong to John Lennon – emerged from a childhood defined by lack or absence. As Kevin MacDonald’s epic and enlightening documentary about the life of Robert Nesta Marley illustrates, much of his righteous anger, steely determination and elusive nature stemmed from the dubious legacy of a shady, philandering English father who was white, feckless and an almost entirely ghost-like figure in his son's life.

This is a vivid and balanced portrait, neither hagiography nor hatchet job, which captures the cool, quiet charisma of a man “with a heart as hard as stone and as soft as water”. Love and joy are present, but there is grit aplenty in the tales of inter-band turmoil, ambition, domestic chaos, stoned determinism and political violence. The account of his death in 1981 from cancer is unflinching and immeasurably sad, the great Rasta lion shrunken, shorn and shivering through a merciless Bavarian winter as he seeks a miracle that never comes.

The music is, of course, magnificent. There is electrifying footage from the Smile Jamaica, One Love and Zimbabwe concerts, while the film is particularly adept at tracing Marley’s journey from the slick young leader of a Trenchtown vocal group to the committed Rastafarian front-loading his music with a more spiritually resonant message. The talking heads are a wonderfully lively bunch, too. Instead of a series of celebrities spouting vague platitudes, Marley is pieced together through the recollections of a rich cast of family, friends, colleagues, girlfriends and children. Despite the presence of such luminaries as Bunny Livingstone and Lee “Scratch” Perry, it's Marley’s vastly entertaining cousin “Sledgo” Peart who steals the show, dispensing wild anecdotes from some unholy Nine Mile shebeen.

After 150 minutes you emerge throughly entertained and entranced, but perhaps not much wiser about what made this driven, somewhat conflicted man tick. But then who really knew him? The heartbreaking look of anger, adoration, regret and confusion that frequently flickers over the face of Cedella – one of Marley’s 11 children by seven different mothers – suggests an age old tale: the artist whose arms encircled the world but never quite managed to embrace those who needed him the most.

Watch the trailer for Marley

Love and joy are present, but there is grit aplenty in the tales of inter-band turmoil, ambition, domestic chaos, stoned determinism and political violence

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters