FilmSlashTV: A ‘Marley’ spliff-tacular

Apr. 19, 2012 | 2 Comments

Bob Marley gets the docu-bio musical-icon treatment in 'Marley.' (Courtesy Magnolia Picture)

Bob Marley gets the docu-bio musical-icon treatment in "Marley." (Courtesy Magnolia Pictures)


Bob Marley was one of the most influential, and most misunderstood, pop-music genius of the last half of the 20th century, a charismatic performer and songwriter who transformed Jamaica into a must-hear musical oasis, a slum boy who worked hard and succeeded against great odds, a reverential figure in the Third World and a significant influence on the rest of the planet, and the outlandishly tragic circumstances of his death guaranteed a measure of everlasting fame. Also, along the way, he smoked an outlandish amount of righteous weed.


Opens tomorrow at Consolidated Theatres Kahala 8

“Marley,” a documentary biography of the man, is as outsized as the Marley legend itself. It goes on and on, and we become privy to every detail of his life — ranging from his mysterious father (a white man whose hobby, apparently, was impregnating Jamaican teenagers) to contretemps with fellow musicians and producers, to a mean, misogenistic streak, to a bizarre role as peacemaker in a civil war, to how a bizarre infection in his big toe led to cancer that he ignored because he wanted to keep playing soccer — and yet,the film never shows us Marley in a complete performance. It’s hard to understand the magic of a man whose most awesome moments are reduced to edited snippets.

Produced by son Ziggy Marley and one-time producer Chris Blackwell of Island Records, this could have become a hagiography. In order to paint a complete portrait of Marley, director Kevin Macdonald delves into less flattering aspects of his life, ranging from Marley’s rather cruel treatment of wife Rita and neglect of daughter Cedella to his control-freak tendencies to manage every aspect of the Marley entourage.

On the other hand, after this long, long time — it’s been three decades since he died — his one-time friends and family members look back on the Bob Marley days with a certain amount of golden whimsy. Former Wailer Bunny Livingston is particuliarly amusing, and the movie looks upon these folks as quaint characters caught up in a kind of bizarre magic-carpet ride that hasn’t yet hit the earth.

Reggae, after all, is now a solid part of world music. Without Bob Marley, it would have remained a footnote.

For Hawaii audiences, the portions dealing with the cultural isolation and economic hardships of island life have particular resonance. No wonder Jawaiian music seems as natural as a heartbeat.
Burl Burlingame is a features reporter at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Email him at and follow him on Twitter.

  • Bobby Schimm

    I disagree with this review in some aspects.  First, I think that the film really touched on all aspects of his life, even the ugly.  However, I think it portrayed Bob is a very positive light overall.  Also, I got the sense from the film that the live footage of him is scarce, hence the limited footage and anyways this is a documentary, not a live in concert film.  Fantastic movie.  I highly recommend.

  • Christopher Webb

    I thought it was awesome, the best Bob Marley doc I’ve seen.  I didn’t see any “mean” streak or any “freakish” desire to control his entourage.  I think the writer is really putting on his own goggles when he says the documentary shows that.  That’s an interpretation that I don’t share at all.  If anything, Bob came off as nice, giving individual.  

    His “misogyny” was limited to having an openly sexually non-committed lifestyle.  The review makes it sound like he beat women or enjoyed hurting others.  In the 70s and 80s, and even now, famous stars tend to have sexually open lifestyles with alarming frequency.  What mean, misogynistic people.   Great doc, lots of details that showed an overall picture of a very sincere, sympathetic and wise man through several people’s eyes.