Film Review: Marley
First of all, nobody could ever expect to see a biography of the eponymous reggae legend of this here movie that didn’t have unlimited reverence for him. But even so, there comes a point wherein bathing a sacred cow degenerates into flogging a dead horse. Sure we know the love for the man, the music and indeed his message, no matter how platitudinous his sentiments may have been (the film concludes with audio of him wishing peace for everyone, deep).
Kevin MacDonald’s documentary doesn’t carve out a single aspect of the singer’s life here for scrutiny; instead we are treated (ahem) to his life story. From birth to death, from Trench Town to Madison Square Garden the film not only cuts a broad swath through his life, but veers in and out of consistency. With infrequent doses of musical analysis whilst flopping back to the singer’s ethos and lifestyle and beliefs, the result is a shotgun mentality. Any facts will do, no matter the order they’re in. As a result topics are touched upon but never truly elaborated upon, including the somewhat puzzling appropriation of Haile Selassie I as a messiah by the followers of Rastafari. Now obviously as a posthumous account from Marley himself is off the cards, we’re given a broadside of just about everybody who knew him in some fashion. In fact, it’s the introduction of Selassie into the story that is recounted by one of Marley’s future partners, an arbitrary reference but one that seems to point to the very fact that how one perceives another is entirely in the eye of the beholder.
Now certainly the film isn’t entirely unsuccessful in its manipulation of facts – history is what people tell you after all – and the juxtaposition of Selassie’s arrival in Kingston with Marley’s return to Jamaica from the US does hammer home messianic appropriations of both individuals, the film seems to assume some of these beliefs itself. It’s from that point however that the polemic here veers toward naïve pomposity.
A hagiography is a portrait of a saint and Marley is certainly that. Marley is painted as nothing less than the man his fans would love to know him as, a deeply spiritual man pathologically embedded in the egalitarian vibe of his music. The fact that Marley’s kin are listed as producers doesn’t help; the fact is that we’ve seen this rendition of the man so many times. Now’s high time for the Marley we’ve never seen, where is his ego? His gullibility to his own legend? The film is peppered with fleeting glimpses at his polygamous endeavours and his disciplinarian approach as a father, few of which seem to have any relevance in the misty eyes of MacDonald. Now, true objectivity is in itself subjective, history is what you are told and rarely what truly happened. The film itself (on a purely subjective level) seems to incidentally parley the idea that how we view one man is dependent on the perception of the individual, but it’s not savvy enough to realise this. So, we’re left with a portrait of a so-called saint. But, we’ve celebrated the man enough. Let’s see some dirt for a change. Where’s Werner Herzog when you need him?