DVD Review: Marley

Marley DVDSTUDIO: Magnolia | DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 8/7/2012 | PRICE: DVD $26.98, Blu-ray $29.98
BONUSES: commentary, extended and additional interviews, more
SPECS: PG-13 | 145 min. | Biographical documentary | 1.78:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

A near-comprehensive survey of the life of late reggae great Bob Marley, the knockout documentary film Marley from director Kevin Macdonald (The Eagle) was years in the making. Legal wrangling and departures from previous directors Martin Scorsese (Hugo) and Jonathan Demme (Something Wild) played a part in its journey, but the impressive result confirms that it was worth the wait.

Marley movie sceneWith no narration or interviews with critics or historians, Macdonald takes a chronological, “oral history”-type approach to the subject, allowing those who were close to Marley to talk about their experiences in great detail. Adding to their fascinating on-camera anecdotes is a rich mix of photos, newsreel footage and concert segments that illuminate Marley’s music and life.

We follow Marley from his birth to a black mother and white British father in Saint Ann, Jamaica to his impoverished childhood in the slums Trenchtown in Kingston to his early move to America and return to Jamaica where he became a music star. Marley’s bandmates The Wailers talk about all aspects of their partnership as does Island Records founder Chris Blackwell; wife Rita Marley, a member of his backup group the I Threes; and Cindy Breakspeare, the former “Miss World,” who became Marley’s longtime mistress.

Marley’s short-lived career—he died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36–are presented in the context of the political, social and musical changes that influenced him and of which he affected. So, viewers are presented with material on the rival political parties in Jamaica, the impact of the pro-marijuana Rastafarian religion on Marley, the prejudices he faced as a mixed race artist and the birth and worldwide popularization of reggae music.

That’s a lot to squeeze into one film even at its 2 ½ hour running time. And even though some things are given short shrift—glossed over are Eric Clapton’s hit of the Marley-penned “I Shot the Sheriff,” band member Peter Tosh’s 1987 murder and the long battle over Marley’s estate (he had no will and several children)–Macdonald has done a yeoman job with Marley, which serves as a primer and tribute to the man and his music and message.

The generous bonus package is led by a commentary by director MacDonald and co-executive producer Ziggy Marley’s, Bob musician son who runs his father estate. MacDonald offers lots of insights into the making of the film, a project that he’s been interested in pursuing for nearly a decade. Most interesting is Macdonald’s comments on incorporating Marley’s music into the biographical narrative, his interviewing of Marley’s family and associates (he spoke to some nearly 80 people, 60 of whom appear in the film) and his passion for Marley as a musician, man and icon. “There is probably no musical artist who has as wide an audience internationally as Bob does,” he acknowledges at one point.


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About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.