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The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world










It’s over 30 years now since Bob Marley died, and finally we have a documentary that is a fitting tribute to the man. Kevin MacDonald has managed to get it just right: balancing a compelling narrative with some exhaustive and informative interviews, but still managing to keep the music well and truly in the foreground. This is very much a look at Bob through family eyes, and dwells far more on the personal and spiritual than the political and succeeds largely because of that.




There’s a memorable opening sequence where we are transported to a castle in Ghana, Africa a building that was the first step for many into a life of slavery in the United States: we then cut to Bob on stage playing ‘Exodus’ to a packed out house. Somehow that seems to encapsulate the story perfectly, save for the tragic ending.




What makes the documentary shine, though has to be the interviews, there is archival footage of Bob intercut; but it’s the people he knew and who knew him that take you closer to the man. Delicate memories like his first teacher who tells of his love of singing seem so commonplace and you wonder as the documentary unfolds how this country boy, born in a shack with no electricity to mixed parentage with seemingly only struggle ahead could become one of the world’s biggest musical icons.  It’s a story of belief and defiance and spirituality.




Some of the everyday recollections are the best:  the struggle of having one set of clothes and one pair of shoes, the regularity of going to bed hungry, tempered by the footage and memories of football and a love of cricket. It’s that sense of getting to know Bob as a man, what shaped him and formed him and hearing from the people that he loved that gives you a wonderfully rounded portrait of the artist.




There’s the sense of pace and movement throughout the film: the young Bob moves to Kingston, we witness the formation of the rather ‘clean-cut’ original Wailers, and then Bob is moving to the US (where he worked in the Chrysler factory). Then it’s back to Jamaica and through the other incarnations of the band before sights are set on touring England and the US before the fateful final trip to Germany.  Even though the film stretches to almost two an a half hours long you wonder at times how MacDonald manages to fit everything in.




We get an introduction to Mortimer Planno, Bob’s mentor and Rastafarian spiritual leader who seems to appear at the right time in Bob’s life, preaching self reliance and self confidence to people who really need it. There’s also the appearance of Haile Selassie I, and footage from his trip to Jamaica and the effect it had. And whilst the film importantly establishes political and historical context it gets the balance just right without over-elaborating.




A nice aspect to the film is the use of archival interviews with Marley (though sometimes only the audio is available). MacDonald cleverly uses Bob’s own words to emphasis key points in the narrative, or equally importantly key messages “It’s not about black or white – one love.”




The Wailers story itself underpins the first half of the documentary and echoes the important theme of struggle and overcoming harsh conditions.  There’s a fleeting look at the origins of Reggae and some of the key figures involved in its genesis, and the documentary really comes into its own when we hear from these figures and the Wailers themselves.   




At times to the music that permeates the film is sublime: ‘Stir it up’ sounds ethereal in the context and the early gospel version of ‘No Woman No Cry’ is breathtaking as the video passes over Jamaica’s green hinterland. 




When things start to happen though you realise how sadly brief, though productive, Bob’s time the World’s spotlight was. The endearing nature of what he and the Wailers created, though, shines through. From “Catch a Fire” – recorded in London for $4000 it’s clear that Bob’s vision was ‘the World’ and while it is sad to see figures like Bunny and Peter Tosh leave early in the piece – Tosh on the eve of the first US tour; it’s clear that Bob understood that to get to your goal you need to work damn hard at it.    




There’s some great previously unseen  archival photos from the family archive that really add to the film and soon the  ‘new’ Wailers with backing singers ‘I Three’ are packing out  4-500 seaters on their way to what would be the watershed Lyceum show in 1975” the tipping point when it became apparent that everything would change. ‘No Woman No Cry’ that illustrates this passage is still one of rocks greatest songs ever recorded.




A move to the street in Jamaica where the Governor and Prime Minister live is shot through with images of games of football in the street outside and memories from Bob’s kids.  Rita, his wife too has a pivotal role in the documentary, and their relationship and Rita’s acceptance of his infidelities (Bob had 11 children from 7 different relationships) comes against a backdrop of political unrest in the Caribbean and a clash of East-West politics. The attempt on Marley's life ahead of a 1976 concert intended to unite the Jamaican people brings home the reality of the political situation and the footage of 'Jammin'' during that concert, days after being shot is both electrifying and moving in equal measure. We listen back to an interview where Bob tells us that his life is only important if he can help people.




In the shadow of this comes Bob’s melanoma and the bad advice received by doctors, and whilst the documentary moves on you realise the chilling significance.  And as superstardom comes so does the reality – the attempted drug busts, and a concern that his concerts were not reaching the coloured audience, especially in the US. There’s a trip to tour Africa, the motherland, and an affair with the daughter of the dictator of Gabon, a concert for Mugabe, just installed in Zimbabwe, and chaos and teargas.  Then there is Madison Square Garden, and after that peak very quickly comes the diagnosis. On the back of that news the footage of the last concert in Pittsburgh is so immensely sad, and yet wonderfully uplifting.




Bob Marley died in Miami on 11th May 1981.




This wonderfully poignant documentary really does do the subject matter justice. The emphasis on the man, rather than the legend, brings with it a warmth that only enhances the importance of Bob’s music to the world.  The access MacDonald had to the family archives too reveals a wealth of unseen images particularly from the early days in Jamaica. Everyone involved should be proud; it’s a wonderful and moving portrait  of a unique talent and human being.




By Mark Diggins