“We came from a wailing environment,” explains Bob Marley’s longtime friend and bandmate, Bunny, on the origins of the Wailers’ famous name. Marley fans know Bunny’s speaking of Trench Town, a Kingston, Jamaica slum. Poverty and crime were everywhere. But so too was the music. And Robert Nesta Marley followed the music. Well, technically, he followed Desmond Dekker, a young ska performer on Beverley’s Records. Even back then, everyone knew Bob had a way with words. His early solo stuff just didn’t sell. Realizing the popular artists of the time, like the Temptations or Impressions, were all groups, Marley connected with Bunny, Peter Tosh and some other talented locals.
Of course, the Marley faithful knows all of that. The thing that keeps this intimate documentary from feeling repetitive is that director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) meshes first-hand takes of commonly know facts (failed assassination attempt, successful political unifications) with the unfamiliar (The Wailers’ courage-building practices in graveyards). The icon’s entire life is chronicled here, from his absentee white father, to his time working with Chrysler in Delaware, to the day he united with Lee “Scratch” Perry.
Marley is co-produced by Bob’s eldest son, Ziggy, so the film could have easily glazed over Bob’s less-flattering womanizing side. Yet it doesn’t. Bob’s ex-wife, Rita, and other former flames speak openly and honestly about the man. And that’s the key word—man. Robert Nesta Marley is revered to this day as a global icon, but the one thing this documentary states very clearly is that this musical god was also a flawed man. (A-)