Though I own a few of his albums and have seen countless clips of him over the decades, I’ve always felt that I didn’t know a lot — didn’t know enough — about Bob Marley, the prancing, high-cheekboned prince of the reggae revolution. When I saw Marley, a deeply entrancing new documentary about him, I learned just how much I didn’t know. Like the fact that Marley, born in 1945 in a tin-hut village with no electricity, was the child of an 18-year-old Jamaican woman and a 50-year-old white captain in the British Royal Marines. Or that the Wailers’ first single — a very catchy ska ditty — came out all the way back in 1964 (their role models were the Temptations). Or that Marley, in his fusion of one-world utopianism and pop-star ego, sexual voraciousness and political fearlessness, was a figure of such majestic contradiction as to rival John Lennon.
Marley was directed by the gifted Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland), who shows off his chops not by doing anything dazzling — the film is documentary prose, not poetry — but by treating Marley as a man of depth and nuance, of inner light and shadow. His rise to the world stage, percolating up from the inside-out rhythms of reggae, is one of the most ebullient star sagas of the ’70s. His death in 1981, from a cancer that went untreated far too long, ends the film on a haunted note of what might have been. (Also available on VOD) A-