Testimony, in this case words from men and women who performed with and accompanied the great Bob Marley, only hints at the forces that drove one of the 20th century’s greatest musicians. The performance shots, paired with historical footage of Marley interviews, capture his uniqueness, his fortitude and convictions so eloquently and consistently that the abundance of talking heads are needed only for enhancement. Jeremy Marre has done a remarkable job detailing Marley’s art and life with enthusiasm and care, making this documentary a centerpiece for PBS’ “American Masters” series during sweeps.
Doc sets up Marley’s accomplishments neatly and succinctly: He has reportedly sold 300 million records worldwide; he brought reggae to a global audience; his song “One Love” was adopted as a millennial anthem; Time magazine named his “Exodus” album the best disc of the 20th century; and he used music and the concert stage to bring together political opponents and initiate social reform.
Wife and backup singer Rita Marley and his Miss World girlfriend collectively provide recollections of Marley in private; musicians paint him as a benevolent taskmaster, and others are generally in awe of him. Marley himself shrugs off labels of genius and lunatic; his reactions to other people’s takes are perhaps not-so-surprisingly similar to those of Bob Dylan. Performance clips are lengthy and wildly entertaining. Most poignant is a clip of Marley, on acoustic guitar, singing “Redemption Song” following a discussion of his death, at age 36, of brain cancer.
Docu is just the beginning of efforts to increase Marley’s visibility. He was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on what would have been his 56th birthday (Feb. 6); the Grammys will bestow a lifetime achievement award upon him Feb. 21; and an expanded edition of the Wailers’ “Catch a Fire” will be released by Island Records parent Universal on March 27. Re-release kicks off an 18-album reissue project that includes deluxe editions of “Exodus” and “Legend” and could be expanded to include a multi-CD set of the Tuff Gong singles, a “Live!” deluxe edition and a multi-CD live box set.