Saturday, 9 February 2013

marley (d kevin macdonald)

The Ubiquitous Troubadour

Is there any music which has become more ubiquitous around the world than Marley's? You could make an argument for Lennon. But Marley manages to cross boundaries, infiltrate himself into cultures like no-one else. With Marley, there's the added rider that it's not only the man but also the style of music. For the vast, vast majority, reggae and Marley are one and the same. Somehow, an impoverished child from Jamaica managed to conquer the world and he did it in a style which was all his own. All this was achieved by the age of 37, at which point he departed, Christ-like, his music posthumously furthering his global domination. In his review in the Guardian, Bradshaw said that the documentary portrayed him as a Napoleonic figure. Perhaps a truer comparison is with Alexander the Great.

Macdonald's lengthy doc pays its dues to the Marley story and the Marley myth. It's a measured piece of filmmaking which is prepared to note the more controversial aspects of his life and career. Including the way the star ruthlessly split with his teenage companions, Peter Tosh and the incredibly charismatic Bunny Wailer. It mentions the contradictions in his attitude to marriage and fidelity, including some telling footage of his wife on a tour bus. However, whilst it touches on these and other issues, it never probes, instead retaining a respectful distance. 

Even if Macdonald seems slightly bolder than Kapadia was prepared to be in his hagiographic Senna, the truth is we don't really get to know the man, leaving the viewer with the feeling that perhaps Marley himself was less interesting than his myth. He loved football and working out and women. Only his ambition truly marked him apart. It almost feels as though his capacity to retain his ordinariness, or perhaps his simplicity,  was the secret of his success. HIs lyrics in particular, heavily influenced by the bible, have a neutrality that allows anyone to engage with them, even if they don't speak English. The film closes with a sequence showing people round the world singing along to his music. In death, he has become a one man, one music UN peace mission. 

The film pays due tribute to this music, which remains almost uncannily powerful. At one point, a member of his band, explaining how they "invented" reggae, talks about the ghostly fourth beat which is never played. Suggesting that the power of reggae and Marley lies in the sound which is not heard, as much as the sounds we do hear. Likewise, Marley's power resides in the things (or roots) this film, for all its skill, never manages to track down. We await a Rosebud moment, a glimpse of the thing that really made him tick, but Marley takes his secrets with him, unwilling or unable to reveal what it was that turned him into the mythic figure whose influence and range, like all the best mythic figures, continues to expand long after the flesh lies dormant. 

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