Many films don’t impress me, many make me regret I have wasted time on them but few films actually anger me. This one managed that (and I wasn’t alone in disliking the film, judging by the amount of people who walked out during the press screening I attended). Imagine a movie all about John Lennon narrated by Yoko Ono and focusing on Yoko rather than the man everyone wants to find out more about. Now put Bob Marley and Esther Anderson in those positions, that’s how this documentary plays out. In fact, a more appropriate title may well have been “Esther Anderson: Lucky Enough To Have Lived With A Legend”.
Mixing archival footage, talking head moments (many of which simply consist of people mentioning Bob Marley briefly before raving on about their own lives or other characters) and Esther’s own narration, this documentary explores the rise of the Jamaican music scene and Bob Marley but it fails to satisfy viewers and would, I think, even frustrate fans of Bob Marley & The Wailers.
The archival footage is, understandably, of poor quality. The picture is almost painful to watch and audio comes and goes. If the material contained here was good enough then that wouldn’t matter but, one or two moments aside, struggling to watch and listen to people smoking joints and talking about things as mundane as a broken jeep does not come anywhere close to something worthwhile.
The narration from Esther Anderson (who co-directed with Gian Godoy) is horribly self-aggrandising and skewed. Esther may indeed have been a hugely important figure on the scene but it all seems as if she’s trying to sell a bit-part as a lead role. I’ll paraphrase some examples:
“Look at this photo I took of Bob smiling. He’s watching people but apart, not part of the crowd.”
“We were talking about something and I mentioned this and then Bob wrote a great song about it.”
“He handed me a copy of this speech and I read it out, everyone gathered around to listen to me speaking these words and Bob wrote a song.”
Documentaries CAN be built around the viewpoints of others but this one is, sadly, built all around the viewpoint of Esther Anderson and I just can’t take anything she says as the absolute truth. It didn’t help that when discussing the writing of “I Shot The Sheriff” Esther appears to refer to Bob as Dylan, in a moment of unforgiveable confusion either on her part or due to my own hearing. Then there was the portion of the movie featuring an elderly woman surrounded by children as she rambled on for about ten minutes about . . . . . . . . well, to be honest, I lost track of who she was on about. At first I thought it was Bob, then Jesus, then some other musician who had already been briefly mentioned.
Which leads me to yet another frustrating factor, some of the dialogue is subtitles and some isn’t. The decision on what to help viewers understand seems to be completely random and gives the documentary an amateur, sloppy feel.
The second half has some footage of early (possibly first, I can’t recall offhand) rehearsal footage with Bob Marley & The Wailers that should please fans but it’s a few, blessed, decent minutes within an hour and a half of boredom.
Bob Marley deserves a fitting tribute. His fans deserve to see a great documentary about the man and his music. This isn’t it.
Bob Marley: The Making Of A Legend is showing on Wed 22 June and Thu 23 June at The Filmhouse, tickets £9. Trust me, even if you’re a HUGE fan of the man, just save your money and buy one of his albums instead.
DIRECTOR: ESTHER ANDERSON, GIAN GODOY
STARS: BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS, ESTHER ANDERSON
RUNTIME: 90 MINS APPROX