Picture it: A boy is raised in poverty and obscurity in Haiti. Let’s call him…Robert Marler.
Young Mr. Marler starts playing Calypso, a music style that is popular in the Caribbean but nowhere else on earth.
By age 30, Marler becomes an international sensation. His songs are known everywhere in the world – from Stockholm to Seoul and from Montreal to Mogadishu.
Age age 36, Marler dies of cancer. And with him dies the entire music genre. Nobody ever buys a new Calypso record again.
That is effectively the summary of Bob Marley’s life. It is a unique success story.
“Marley” is an entertaining documentary about a fascinating man.
Documentarian Kevin MacDonald does a great job of chronicling Bob Marley’s humble beginnings and meteoric rise in popularity.
And MacDonald does a surprisingly lousy job of showing us who Bob Marley really was and what motivated him to become an almost Dalai Lama-esque force for peace in the world.
MacDonald introduces us to Jamaica in the 1950s, a land of unimaginable poverty.
If you have no money in America, you can probably find someone who is willing to give you a little food and perhaps even a couch to crash on in front of a TV. In Bob Marley’s Jamaica, poverty meant living in a rickety rural shack without power or running water and owning no shoes.
From Marley’s backward, isolated Third World home came Marley’s strange religion – Rastafarianism. I’m not eager to tear down another person’s faith, but let’s keep it real: if you honestly think that the Emperor of Ethiopia is the reincarnation of Jesus and a living God on earth, you’ve probably been smoking too much ganja.
Though none of us can relate to Bob Marley’s upbringing, we all can appreciate his music. You don’t need to be an insightful documentarian to explain why Marley became popular. It’s because he had a cool public persona and a bunch of extremely catchy pop songs. Simple as that.
But while his music is universally relatable, the man remains a mystery. In the personal interviews that MacDonald shows us, Bob Marley doesn’t reveal anything profound about himself or his worldview. Indeed, he barely spoke comprehensible English.
MacDonald lets Marley off the hook for his personal flaws. Marley was an absentee father and a serial philanderer who had 11 children with 9 different mothers. But, to be fair, I wouldn’t have the guts or the desire to make a movie that belittles one of the most beloved musicians of the 20th Century, either.
Bob Marley was undeniably a remarkable man. And “Marley” is a worthwhile documentary.