On Monday night I saw the new documentary about Bob Marley as part of the 2012 DC International Film Festival. So important is “Marley” that it was introduced by the Tony Gittens, founder and director of FilmfestDC. Marley’s director and producers specifically chose Filmfest DC for a pre-release screening; the film had only screened at two other festivals and will not screen at any other festivals before its opening tomorrow, Friday, April 20. However, tonight in Kingston, Jamaica at Emancipation Park at 8PM Marley will screen free and I encourage every Jamaican who’s able to attend to go there and watch. The documentary is worth every second of its 145 minutes. On its 4/20 opening day Marley will also stream on Facebook. All of the reviews that I have read – and there are many, from the New York Times to local papers in Silicon Valley, California – are enthusiastic about the film. I agree with the seemingly widespread sentiment that Marley is a well-needed portrait of Bob Marley the man, not the superstar, not the celebrity, not the prophet…just a man. It was something that his granddaughter Donisha Prendergast urged us to have in mind as we watched – think of Bob the man not Bob the celeb – but the caution wasn’t necessary even as I saw footage and heard the famous songs; I couldn’t help but think about him outside of the context of superstar, maybe even the first Third World superstar.
Quite honestly something moved inside me as I watched…I’m still dealing with it but it’s a good thing.
There were times when the audience sang along, a low rumble that seemed almost unconscious. There were gasps when something new or sad was revealed. There was laughter, especially when Bunny Wailer was on screen (he is indeed a character). I was intrigued by the use of Cindy in the film and felt empathetic toward Cedella, who I think obviously still misses her father but is also a little angry. A little ironic since Bob spent much of his life searching for a father figure. There were other things: Bob’s puzzlement over the majority or all white audiences at his concerts made me smile…it seems to echo the current state of things, with this popularity and influence still resting (visibly anyway) among non-black, non-Jamaicans. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that he seems to more easily spur mostly non-blacks and non-Jamaicans to action…. Even the director of Marley‘s own comments (see the NYT article linked to above) echo this kinship that he feels with Bob. Marcia’s recollection of Bob’s final rehearsal was heartbreaking and I think that did it for audience members already on the brink of tears. Because toward the end of the documentary when we all knew that discussion of Bob’s declining health and eventual death was coming up, the theatre was tense. I could feel it. At the end there was thick silence before the applause…some people were crying, quietly. Dena Tompkins who had helped to introduce the film had a hard time composing herself as she spoke as the credits rolled; she had known Bob and had helped with understanding his cancer diagnosis and treatment but this was her first time seeing Marley. Bob meant and still means a lot to many people but first and foremost he was a man who struggled with his identity, with fitting into Jamaican society, and sometimes with his superstardom.
The “general” history intertwined in the documentary portrait was revealing. From discussing the background for some of Marley’s songs to his family history, to some explanation of how Reggae was created, watching Marley really was a revelation for me. It’s not that I was ignorant of the framework of Bob Marley’s story, as with most people I know the basics. This documentary, though, filled in many holes. Sure “the usual suspects” (Rita, Chris Blackwell, Bunny Wailer, Cindy) were interviewed but there were some new faces and all seemed to speak candidly about who Bob was, where he came from, and what drove him. Learning about the history of “Cornerstone,” “Night Shift,” and “Small Axe”gives new meaning to the words and makes me wonder about his other songs…what spurred them? Because this man was, fundamentally, telling stories about life…the every day mundane being given life and meaning through timeless songs. This is why he is considered a poet and prophet.
I still believe as I did during and immediately after the film that every Jamaican must watch this film. And I still say that without any hesitation, reservation, or hyperbole. Why? Because Bob Marley is an important historical figure and he is Jamaica’s own. Even though he has touched millions – maybe he belongs to them too – he’s Jamaica’s own first. It is simply important to know our history, and this documentary is a good place to start.
Interested to hear your thoughts about and reactions to Marley…