One song I clearly remember liking a lot when I first heard it when I was a child was Iron, Lion, Zion. To be honest I’ve no idea why it struck me so, but since then Bob Marley’s music has always sat on the edge of my musical consciousness while always retaining a certain place in there.
Despite this I didn’t really know much about the man himself, or the culture that produced such a distinctive sound, so I came to Marley eager to learn more.
When it comes to his story, it is a fairly simple and well-travelled one, in essence, as it’s a rags to riches tale of a young outcast boy from a very rural background finding fame and fortune and some of the potential troubles he encounters along the way – in this case women and gangsters (though we get the impression that to Marley himself these weren’t too much of a problem, but maybe were to those around him).
Besides the fairly run of the mill story, what is most interesting about Marley is its exploration of the culture that Marley’s music comes from and the cultural impact it had around the world.
Of course a major influence on Marley and his music was religion, in particular the Rastafari movement.
The impression this film gives is that, while Marley himself was influenced early on in his career by the faith as it grew in Jamaica, and he was present when Haile Selassie visited the island, by the time of his death Marley had become such a figure in Jamaican and Rastafari culture his funeral was treated much like the visit of the Ethiopian Emperor.
Having been made with the direct involvement of Marley’s family leads me to a certain amount of skepticism with this story, but the archive footage of the funeral does certainly demonstrate how much of a revered figure he was in his home country.
The brief exploration of some of the main features of Rastafarianism and its relationship to Selassie was certainly one of the most interesting aspects of the film as this is, something I had previously heard of but had no understanding of, and that the belief that Revelations discusses a type of music that will spread around the world, of course here believed to be reggae, quickly and easily explains why there is such a strong link between the faith and the music and, therefore, arguable the most internationally successful reggae artist ever, Bob Marley.
The other major aspect the film deals with feels, in comparison, a little bit soap opera, as we hear about and form some of the women Marley had relationships with (seemingly most while married to his wife Rita).
What this shows is an odd aspect that again relates back to the religion and, more so, to the spread and promotion of Jamaican culture that Marley seemed to embody, as his wife says she looked past it as she saw how important his work and music were and, towards the end, she says she even brought together as many of his children as she could to take them to Miami to see Bob just before he died – if anything this demonstrates a huge strength in her character while saying something that is left ambiguous about Marley’s.
Production-wise Marley is a slightly odd film. While it is clearly a fairly high budget production that travels the world and is shot very well there are some elements, which were reminiscent of some amateur documentaries I have seen over the years, particularly in the use of captions.
This is an odd thing as most mainstream, high-end, documentaries these days will use the visuals and the interviewees to explain things without extra captions as this feels like something of an old-fashioned device and at times, particularly at the start of the film, they did take me out of the movie a little bit more than I would have liked.
While Marley certainly is an interesting movie, and sheds light on the life and culture of a performer who had always had a place in my musical life (albeit one I can’t exactly nail down), it also suffers from a couple of problems mostly based on trying to tell us too much and therefore is a little on the long side for a casual viewer (which I consider myself here) and at times seems to become a bit of a structural mess.
However, in its best moments it is enthralling and enlightening and certainly shows how such an outcast boy from rural Jamaica managed to spread a message, and more importantly his music, to the entire world.
And here’s Iron, Lion, Zion: