Fans of reggae music will not want to miss the latest film detailing the life of the genre’s undeniably biggest luminary, Bob Marley.
Most know little about the man who single-handedly elevated reggae music to the international spotlight, and he did so in a too short 36 years. Marley chronologically and thematically covers the life of Robert Nesta Marley, from his birth in 1945 to his tragic death from melanoma in 1981. The film is peppered with candid interviews of those who knew him best, including his bandmates, his family, and his various flings.
Guaranteed, you will learn more than you ever knew about Bob Marley, including the little-recognized fact that Bob’s father was white. From his early years that were scarred by teasing and rejection, to his identity as a Rastafarian, to his reluctance to meddle in politics yet embodiment of his role as a social and political prophet, Marley was a complex and introspective human being and the film does its best to figure him out.
Marley not only exposes little known insights into Bob Marley’s life, but it also recounts the evolution of reggae music. The Wailers eccentric producer Lee “Scratch” Perry compared ska (where reggae’s roots originated) to reggae in that ska was “perfect music for drinking and dancing, but it wasn’t spiritual music.”
In fact, one of the most enjoyable parts of the film is dissecting Bob’s songs and discovering the true meaning behind them. I’m willing to bet you had no idea that a “duppy” is an evil spirit (Duppy Conqueror) or that the “big tree” reference in Small Axe was a direct warning to Big Tree Records, the conglomerate of labels formed by various Jamaican artists, the Wailers excluded.
The film’s cinematography does an excellent job of manifesting life in the streets of Trenchtown, the village where Bob grew up that provided the basis for much of his early inspiration. The slow camera pans capture the laid back vibe of Jamaica and showcases its stunning natural paradise contrasted by the poverty that permeates much of Jamaican society.
There’s a great scene featuring Bob’s uncle in a snack shack waiting out a rainstorm with a bunch of other dudes, all just hanging out. Another powerful scene follows a slow-strutting Rasta weaving his way through the back alleys of a bustling neighborhood, the rusty corrugated sheet metal siding guiding his path. The settings paint a relevant picture for all to understand the routine system that Bob Marley was so determined to escape as well as to expose to the world.
Marley opens oh-so-appropriately on Friday 4/20 at the Embarcadero Center Cinema, Embarcadero One @ Front and Sacramento.