Today marks the 31st anniversary of Bob Marley's death. It was a huge loss back then and is still felt today. And although he's been the subject of several books and movies, a revealing new documentary titled Marley delves further and focuses on more people to create an enlightening and entertaining film that doesn't seem nearly as long as its 145 minutes.
Academy Award-winning director Kevin Macdonald (One Day In September, The Last King of Scotland) was thorough in his research and talked to about 60 people close to the man most responsible for popularizing reggae music around the world, including: wife Rita; children Ziggy and Cedella; other relatives; musicians Bunny Wailer, Jimmy Cliff, Lee "Scratch" Perry and Aston "Family Man" Barrett; Toronto-born girlfriend, former Miss World and mother of Damian Marley, Cindy Breakspeare; baby mother Pat Williams; Wailers artistic director Neville Garrick; Island Records founder Chris Blackwell; former Jamaican prime minister Edward Seaga; Marley's lawyer; Gabonese dictator Omar Bongo's daughter, who fell in love with Marley; the German nurse who looked after him in his final days of battling cancer; and people close to the man in his younger years, including former roommate Dudley Sibley.
While Marley and his music were known for bringing people together, the film reveals he wasn't very close to his children and his well-known womanizing (he fathered at least 11 children with at least seven different women) comes into even clearer focus. The man wasn't a saint.
I have a lot of Marley music in my collection and it, along with the messages contained in many of the man's songs, has prompted two pilgrimages to Jamaica to visit his birthplace in Nine Mile and his later home at 56 Hope Rd. in Kingston. But whether you're like me and have invested time and money in the man who's become an icon since his death at age 36 or are one of those people who know little more about him than you enjoy a song or two of his when you hear it at a restaurant, you'll come away with a much better understanding of Marley.
Marley screened at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival last week and will play at Toronto's Bloor Hot Docs Cinema from May 18 to 31. You can watch a trailer for the film here.