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ReThink Review: Marley -- the Definitive Bob Marley Documentary, in Time for 4/20

Posted: 04/20/2012 8:50 am

If 4/20 is the international day for celebrating marijuana, songs by Bob Marley and the Wailers would be the day's equivalent of carols on Christmas (with the works of Snoop Dogg a distant second). As a member of the Rastafari movement, which sees smoking cannabis as a spiritual act that brings followers closer to their incarnation of God, Marley was the world's most prominent pot smoker and has, since his death, practically become the patron saint of weed, with images of Marley enjoying spliffs adorning the walls of weed-friendly homes and businesses like pictures of Jesus or the Virgin Mary in Christian homes. The fact that Marley's lyrics were usually about love, peace, and freedom and his music's often languid, tropics-infused vibe is perfect for relaxed grooving probably doesn't hurt, either.

But Marley was much more than a pot smoker and a purveyor of music for barbecues and pool parties. The documentary Marley -- which comes out April 20 (4/20) in select theaters, Video On Demand, and Facebook -- seeks to be the definitive film about the reggae superstar -- and at nearly two and a half hours long, it's definitely the most comprehensive. Directed by Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September, The Last King of Scotland), Marley examines the breadth of Marley's life and work, going from growing up poor in Jamaica as the son of a Jamaican mother and a white British military man to becoming the world's first "third-world superstar", standing up for oppressed peoples everywhere. Marley includes new interviews with friends, family members, lovers, and fellow musicians, as well as never-before-seen photos and footage of Marley both onstage and off. Watch my ReThink Review of Marley below or read the transcript following the video.

Transcript: A lot of people claim they like reggae, but what they really mean is that they like Bob Marley, or, more accurately, they like 'Bob Marley Legend', a best-of album that has achieved the rare status of being an album EVERYONE has. While the songs on Legend have sadly been co-opted and overplayed, there's a reason why Marley's music has crossed over to virtually every nation and demographic imaginable, transcended the genre of reggae, and still manages to get you grooving, even if you're hearing it for the millionth time. At two and a half hours long, Kevin McDonald's documentary Marley appears to be the definitive movie on the reggae superstar, examining every aspect of the man, his roots, and the music he introduced to the world, and is bound to be illuminating for both hardcore fans and the most casual reggae poseurs. And just in time for 4/20.

While legal disputes among Marley's relatives, including ten children from seven different mothers, it seems that the stars finally aligned, and Marley is the reward, featuring interviews with Marley's wife, girlfriends, kids, friends, family, and former bandmates, as well as the use of Marley's complete music catalog, and a trove of rare and never-before-seen photos and footage.

The film starts with Marley's childhood growing up poor in Nine Miles and Trench Town, Jamaica, revealing a fact I'm shocked I didn't know -- that Marley's father was a white British military man Marley never really knew. Marley dropped out of school at fourteen to be a musician, and it's fascinating to hear Marley's early pre-reggae recordings. There are interviews with musicians and producers who worked with Marley, as well as lessons in Jamaica's music scene and the origins of reggae, which was another surprise since one usually thinks of reggae as a distinctly Jamaican music, but actually has its roots in early American soul and R&B. Nor did I know that Marley lived for a time in Delaware with his mom.

Marley's conversion to the Rastafari religion figures heavily in his growth as a musician and a man, shaping the beliefs that he would spread through his music. While Rastafari is know for its use of marijuana for spiritual reasons, and Marley is one of the world's most famous weed smokers, he never comes across as a stoner, but instead is extremely disciplined, hard-working, health-conscious, and very serious about his religious beliefs.

Marley and his band, the Wailers, would go on to tour the world, with Marley considered the first international superstar from a third world nation. The film documents their meteoric success with footage of some of their biggest and most significant shows. But the film also shows Marley as a person who loved soccer and exercise, shared his wealth with fellow Jamaicans in need, and stood up for freedom fighters everywhere, holding more militant views than he's often credited with, making him a hero to indigenous and oppressed peoples around the world. At the same time, the film doesn't shy away from Marley's faults, including his infidelity (which his wife seemed to know about and tolerate) and how the crew surrounding him and his focus on music often kept his children at a distance.

Naturally, Marley covers just about everything you could want in its two and a half hours, including his death from cancer at the young age of 36. But despite the film's length, it never felt long, which makes sense since Marley led a fascinating life, and his impact on music and world culture really can't be overstated.

While I'm sure there will be some Marley fans who'll wish there was more about a certain aspect of his life, Marley is about as comprehensive and definitive a Bob Marley documentary as you could want or are likely to ever get, with plenty of new interviews and rare footage to satisfy even the most knowledgeable fans. There's so much in this film that I wouldn't mind seeing it again, and it even got me to check out some of Marley's non-Legend albums, which is no small feat for a non-reggae listener. So check out Marley, and if you feel like smoking herb while you watch, you can watch Marley at home with the comfort of your own bong on Facebook and Video On Demand.

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