Marley (2012) ☆☆☆(3/4): A respectful tribute to a legendary musician


To the audiences like me who are not so familiar to Bob Marley, the director documentary “Marley” is an informative documentary which shows Marley as an influential musician and a wonderful human being who left our world too early. I did not know much about him and his music(I belatedly came to know about his works through an entertaining but forgettable SF film “I Am Legend”(2007)), but this documentary was a compelling and detailed presentation of its subject figure, and I learned a lot about him with more admiration in the end.

During the running time more than 140 minutes, the documentary looks around Marley’s short life from his childhood to his untimely death. He was born in Nine Miles in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica on February 6th, 1945. His father, Norval Marley, was a middle-aged British captain in the Royal Marines who married Marley’s mother Cedella Booker when she was only 18 years old at that time. Although he supported his wife and son financially, Marley rarely met his father, who died when Marley was 10 years old.

We are told about his early life through the interviews with the people who knew him, including his mother, his family members and his friends. Because he was born between a white father and a black mother, he was an outsider from the beginning, and that made his childhood harder, but he later found a way to deal with his racial identity through his religion, Rastafari, early in his career. With his religious belief, he approached to all people as a man who stood over race and politics, and that aspect is reflected well in his songs, through which his message and passion immediately came not only to the people in Jamaica but also to the people all over the world.

Through various photos and footage, we see how his career was initiated and developed to the level of international fame. Marley already showed his talent with music when he was at grade school. He left school when he was 14 and then recorded his first two singles in 1962. He formed a band with his musician friends during that time, which was later known as “The Wailers”. After his short stay in Wilmington, Delaware where his mother moved to, he returned to Jamaica and further advanced his career with The Wailers. He had no particular ambition, but Marley wanted his reggae music introduced to more people outside his country, and he luckily found the right chances and right people to help him. After the band’s album “Catch a Fire” was released worldwide in 1973, he and his band quickly rose to a far more popularity than before.

As shown in the documentary, Marley was an electrifying presence on the stage with his music. Around the time when he got international breakthrough in his career, Jamaica was embroiled with the tumultuous political conflict between two warring political parties, and bloody violence was usual news for the front page during that time. Two days before his concert for easing the tension in his country in 1975, Marley, his wife, and his manager were shot by an unknown guy at his home at 55 Hope Road, but he did not cancel his concert, and he bravely appeared in front of 80,000 audiences. Three years later, he had another peace concert in Jamaica, and he made a wonderful moment when two opposing leading politicians appeared on the stage together at his request and then shook hands with each other in front of the audiences.

We also get some glimpses into his private life with his family, which is mainly told through his wife Rita and children. He was not exactly a model dad and husband, but they all fondly remember their time with him. His wife, who was a singing partner in his band, knew well that he had relationships with other women(The Bob Marley official site acknowledges six other children of his besides three children from their marriage and two children from Rita’s previous marriage), but she also knew that he would not leave her even though he was a man who could not say no to the women approaching to him. They maintained a good marital relationship till his death, although their children said that their father’s affairs probably hurt her at times.


In 1977, Marley was diagnosed to have a malignant melanoma at one of his toes when an injury on his foot from a soccer game was examined. At the time of this discovery, his illness could have been treated quickly and then he could have had a longer musician career, but he unwisely refused to get the treatment. 3 years later, shortly after his final concert in 1980, his health became far more worsened, and they found that cancer had already spread throughout his body.

The last part of the documentary focuses on his losing battle with cancer. The doctors told him he was dying with few weeks left for his life, and his last attempt with the controversial cancer therapy at the hospital in Bavaria, Germany resulted in no success. His body got weakened day by day, but he kept his good spirit intact even during that time. He moved back Jamaica and then went to Florida, where he died at the age of 36 on the morning of May 11th, 1981.

The director Kevin Macdonald, who is well-known for his documentaries “One Day in September”(2000)(he won an Oscar for this) and “Touching the Void”(2003), made a respectful tribute to this inspiring musician. With the generous help and permission from Marley’s family members, the documentary effectively uses many of his songs while following Marley’s career, and we get a touching montage of his music shared by many different people around the world. On the whole, this documentary is a wonderful guide to Marley’s life and his music.

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One Response to Marley (2012) ☆☆☆(3/4): A respectful tribute to a legendary musician

  1. S M Rana says:

    Nothing to beat a good biopic….the drama of an actual life, even more so when it involves the confrontation with premature death at a peak of achievement…without seeing it, i can imagine the film’s power…

    SC: I think you’ll like it.

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