Film Reviews

Ziggy Marley as the “One Love, One World” performer.

Unfinished Music

New Bob Marley documentary reveals almost all

It’s too bad that the word “icon” has become the most overused term in what passes for modern celebrity journalism. But if the word icon doesn’t apply to Bob Marley, who became a kind of quasi-religious figure to millions, a sign of hope, and, as it turns out, financially generous, to whom can it possibly apply?

Born in l945 in abject poverty in a Jamaican backwater, fashioning musical instrument parts from dungheap scraps of wire, the son of a Jamaican woman and a feckless white soldier, Marley was musical down to his toes.

His band, the Wailers, became world-famous when they first played in the US in l980 at Madison Square Garden, opening for the Commodores. The announcement outraged most Marley fans: Marley? Opening for a less-than-stellar ordinary singing group?

Marley’s risk to his own reputation paid off: The Garden erupted with people not just standing but standing on their chairs, screaming. The US opened up for the Wailers: They were now lifted from Reggae cult stardom to world fame.

Now for the film: Clocking in at nearly two-and-a-half hours, helmed by Kevin Macdonald (Oscar-winner for Last King of Scotland), it is an intricate collection of film clips, interviews, concert excerpts, and backstories, political and personal. The more involved you were with the music, the more moving the film.

That’s the good news. Now for the less-than-good news: For some reason, the filmmakers cut parts from several concert scenes, leaving celebrated sounds unfinished.

In l976, Marley survived an “assassination attempt” during a concert. Two days later, undaunted, he displayed his wounds at another concert.

Because of his racial mixture, his unswerving political commitments, his personal life (11 children by seven different women) and his reclusive habits, Marley felt himself an outcast, even in his later years of fame and money.

His tragic death (of cancer) practically shattered his followers and left a void yet to be filled in socio-political music. It was the music of indignation and alienation that Bob Marley was able to transform into lyric poetry. Try see.