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Marley

April 23, 2012

Marley (2012)
Director: Kevin Macdonald

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Synopsis: A documentary detailing the music and life of reggae legend, Bob Marley.

Review: I assume this production was probably well underway before the release of Formula One biopic Senna last year, but there are strong echoes in Marley of Senna’s use of cinematic documentary as a means of dramatising, and in a sense cashing in on, the appetite in the public for stories about the biggest (and most tragic) icons of our times.

Certainly Marley is aiming for the mainstream with its large budget and lush production values. No expense is spared to gain access to all the major family, musical and political figures of Marley’s lifetime, and A-list director Kevin Macdonald films with a sweep and majesty that wouldn’t be amiss on a major Hollywood production. Arguably, this expansiveness and seeming lack of limit to the film’s scope and resources is one of the film’s biggest drawbacks. Often the relative lack of spending power on a documentary forces the filmmaker to be more intimate in his or her craft, and to home in on one particular facet of his or her subject. With Marley though and its seeming inexhaustible footage of Marley’s career and access to every major player in his life, Macdonald makes the easy (but understandable) decision to chart a layman’s whistlestop tour through the major events and turning-points of Marley’s life.

It certainly would have been nice to find out more about Marley’s use of lyrics, but then again, to an extent I’ve always found Marley to be an enigmatic and ambiguous figure, beyond the ubiquitous presence his music and image have taken in popular culture. Ironically, the film’s superficial skirting of Marley’s music further betrays that ambiguity. I’ve always seen him more as a symbol for ideas of peace and liberation – a reggae John Lennon if you like – and this point is conveyed by the end-sequence which shows how his music and lyrics have a universality and accessibility that have seen them embraced around the world. (April 2012)

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