Do we really need another documentary on Bob Marley? If we do, this is probably the best one we’re gonna get. Marley is nearly two and a half hours long, and it’s directed by Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland), and it’s coming out on 4/20, which is either synchronicity or good marketing, depending on your point of view. (It’s also simultaneously premiering online via Facebook, in case you’re way too high to leave the house.)
I’m no Bob Marley expert, but I am familiar with a lot of his work, both on purpose—those early sides with Lee “Scratch” Perry and the first couple of Wailers albums on Island Records are pretty great—and just by being a white person who went to college in America. The reappropriation of Marley’s political rhetoric as good-time party jams by the backward-hatted frat-masses is the subject of its own lengthy examination, but you won’t find it in Macdonald’s Marley, which is reverential and austere.
We get interviews with family members and those who surrounded Marley during his brief life, and a few points are worth driving home: Bob Marley was half white, and during his youth felt ostracized in Jamaica; he visited America early on and realized he didn’t fit in there, either; he really was as committed to social equality and freedom as he seemed; he really did smoke a shit-ton of weed. There are some fascinating passages about a couple concerts, one in Zimbabwe and one in Jamaica, that were surrounded by political unrest; Marley’s efforts to keep the crowds from erupting into riots are remarkable. But there’s not enough about the music or the man. In Macdonald’s hands, Marley remains an enigma, a silk-screened face on a stinky T-shirt.