Oscar-winning documentary maker Kevin Macdonald has made what critics are calling the definitive biography of reggae legend Bob Marley, aided by the singer’s family and record label who have given the project their blessing.
The first authorized film of his life had its premiere at the Berlin film festival, and while questions about Marley remain, it goes some way to revealing the man behind the myth.
“I just felt like there weren’t any good films about him and a lot of misinformation,” Macdonald told Reuters this week.
“I wanted to make a very simple film. It’s the most conventional film I think I ever made, very straight forward, just trying to be a detective and uncover the truth about his life and the truth about his character.”
“Marley,” too long for some reviewers at 144 minutes, features interviews with Marley’s children, his wife Rita, friends and a former bandmate, as well as concert footage.
And with his record label Island also on board, the soundtrack speaks for itself.
The film traces Marley’s well-documented journey from a boy born in a small village in Jamaica to a music superstar who brought reggae and the Rastafari movement to a global audience.
He died of cancer in 1981 aged 36.
It explores how Marley was troubled by his mixed-race heritage, the source of bullying when he was a child, and how his many affairs and children out of wedlock took its toll on wife Rita and their daughter Cedella.
Marley had 11 children by seven mothers, according to several accounts of his life.
“Discussion of such insecurities, in addition to tart descriptions of his domestic life from his wife, mistresses and children, does much to dispel the widely held notion of Marley as a kind of blissed-out naif,” wrote Guy Lodge in his review of the film for Hollywood publication Variety.
He added, however, that “Macdonald can’t resist one too many shots of the vital, verdant Jamaican landscape to re-romanticize things a little.”
Key interviewees include Bunny Wailer, a surviving founding member of Marley’s band the Wailers. Afterwards the narrative is taken up by Neville Garrick, the Wailers’ artistic director.
Garrick recalled Marley’s frustration at the toll his illness took towards the end.
“He had a stroke on one side so he couldn’t play his guitar anymore and I think that kind of frustrated him,” he said.
“Besides, he lost his locks, that all came with the chemotherapy. But being not able to function 100 percent, I think that really hurt him.
“I don’t know, maybe he said, like, you know, Jah Rastafari God, what did I do, why are you making me suffer like this? All I did was serve you.”
For Marley’s son Rohan, the film was a way of keeping his father’s legacy alive. At a press conference, he described how having a superstar father was not always easy.
When he and his brother were playing in their home as children, he recalled, two boys approached the gates.
The Marley brothers told them to leave, saying that day they had their father to themselves. The singer overheard the conversation, gave his sons money and told them to buy ice creams for the boys but none for themselves.
“We may call him Daddy, but we’re just one of the many,” Rohan said.