At the closing of the new documentary Marley, director Kevin Macdonald takes viewers on a trip around the globe — Africa, Tibet, the U.K., the Middle East and other locales — where Bob Marley's songs Get Up, Stand Up and One Love are being sung or listened to.
The reggae legend's music has become ubiquitous and, perhaps, taken for granted, says Macdonald, the Oscar-winning director of the documentary One Day in September.
"Just crossing the street you will hear it coming out of a car or in an elevator or coming out of a shop or bar. It is kind of amazing how many times you will hear it," he says. "It's easy for the music to become background, and I hope people will see the film and go back to the music and actually appreciate it more," he says.
Marley's family and Macdonald, who also directed The Eagle and The Last King of Scotland, also hope that the new film lets viewers see beyond Marley the cultural icon. Marley opens in theaters Friday and is the first new U.S. theatrical release to be available concurrently on Facebook ($6.99, with proceeds going to the Save the Children charity). It also can be seen on iTunes as well as cable and satellite on-demand video systems.
Born in 1945 in rural Jamaica, Marley began recording music at the age of 16 in the Trench Town neighborhood near Kingston. With the Wailers, he rose to global stardom. Along the way, he fathered 11 children from seven relationships and became a voice for individual rights amid political strife in Jamaica and Africa.
"I thought I knew him, but now I really know him and I love him more. And I love his music more now that I know him more," says son Ziggy Marley, an executive producer on the film. "That is what I want, people to know him more and feel for him as a person, what he has been through."
Marley, who died in 1981 at 36, has been the subject of many documentaries and concert videos. But his family, including wife Rita, mother Cedella Marley Booker and his children, wanted to create a definitive film "because there has been so much that has been done and has been said that we weren't really involved with," says Ziggy. "As Bob's eldest son, I wanted to be involved with something where I could have a voice."
Over the years the family had acquired an archive of photos and video. "We were always doing that whether we were thinking about a film or not," says Ziggy, who along with sister Cedella was interviewed for the film. He is also seen dancing on stage along with brother Stephen as the Wailers perform at the Zimbabwe independence ceremony.
But there are very few photos of the young Bob Marley and no footage until at least 1972, Macdonald says. So an assembly of voices brings Marley's early story to life in the film. His first teacher tells how the young farm boy Robert Marley loved to sing. After his mother moved them to Trench Town, Marley still was often barefoot and "went to bed hungry a lot," says friend Desi Smith.
But it was there that Marley was exposed to a vibrant musical community and "saw a way out: his guitar," says Neville "Bunny" Livingston in the film. He would go on to form the Wailers with Marley and Peter Tosh.
Even Marley's children discovered aspects of their father's life in the poignant film, including details about his hardscrabble youth, being denied by the family of his deceased white father, Norval Marley, and the treatment for cancer at a German holistic clinic. "There was a lot of stuff we didn't know about that we know now," says Ziggy.
Particularly touching is Macdonald's playing of the song Cornerstone to Marley's second cousin Peter Marley and half-sister Constance Marley. Bob supposedly wrote the song, which includes the lyrics "The stone that the builder refused will always be the head cornerstone," after a visit to Norval Marley's U.K. construction company offices. "How true that is because he (Bob) put the Marley name in the world," she says.
Also heart-rending is daughter Cedella's recollection of her father's last days at a Miami hospital in May 1981. "You know, like the one time you are kind of hoping you can have him for yourself," she says, halting for a moment. "It wasn't supposed to happen again."
The nearly 2½-hour film has scores of musical moments to remind followers of Marley's infectious talent. Rarities include concert footage of the song Exodus from a 1978 Boston concert, as well as an unreleased No Woman, No Cry demo and an a cappella version of Kaya.
Those who only know the visage of Bob Marley on T-shirts and posters and "just think of Bob as the ganja-smoking guy," says Ziggy, "can be more in-depth by watching this film. This is something very important for my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren and every generation after this. This is the definitive thing that I want my kids to know about (their) grandfather."