Searching For The Natural Mystic With Marley Director Kevin Macdonald
Marley, the new documentary on the life of reggae great Bob Marley, makes its US theatrical debut on April 20. Working with the blessing of the Marley family, director Kevin Macdonald worked hard to sculpt a balanced story of his subject’s life. In the process of showing Bob Marley to be flesh and blood, Macdonald manages to prove him worthy of his status as legend.
No special effects are needed to have Bob Marley’s story move you – the simple facts will do it.
Kevin Macdonald was kind enough to share a few minutes’ of time recently to discuss the making of Marley.
BR: After watching a review stream of Marley last night, I have two words for you, Kevin: “love” and “respect.” You used both of them so well in the making of this movie.
KM: (laughs) Thank you.
BR: But at the same time, you kept it real and showed Bob to be human.
KM: Well, that was the idea. We didn’t need another airbrushed celebrity portrait; the human behind the icon was the idea, really. Fortunately, I got the opportunity – with the cooperation of the family – to really create a human portrait of the man.
BR: It’s a great assortment of people you were able to talk to, from Bob’s childhood teacher Mrs. James to the nurse from Dr. Issels’ clinic in Germany where he spent his final months. I wondered in particular about Bunny Wailer, who has been portrayed over the years as being bitter … he’s a key voice – and a great voice – in your movie.
KM: Oh, I think there is a little bitterness there, but I think it’s very complex for Bunny you know. There’s an element where he’s feeling, “I was left behind” … but at the same time, they were basically brothers – they grew up together.
Bunny loved Bob. He’s very conflicted – but the love comes across.
It took months to get Bunny to agree to take part in the movie, but in the end I think he – and everyone else – realized our desire to do something that was complete … we wanted to make something that wasn’t just celebrity bullshit. And they felt it was a good thing to get involved with.
BR: And that’s a tribute to you – if you’d come across the wrong way to begin with, the doors would’ve been shut tight and nobody would’ve talked to you for love nor money.
KM: Oh, yeah. Some of them are not the easiest people to deal with, but … (laughs) I loved it in Jamaica, though. I’d move there now, actually. (laughter)
BR: I wondered about some of the on-site interviews you did at Nine Mile and Trench Town. I know it’s a different place than it was in the late 60s and 70s, but you tell me: I have this romantic notion of being able to walk the streets and hear all this cool music, but –
KM: Oh you can – you can. I mean, there are places where you don’t want to go that have a high murder rate –especially if you’re from the opposite gang (laughs). If you’re just a tourist hanging out, it’s unlikely that anything will happen to you if you’re extra careful to be in the right places.
Trench Town’s ghetto is still incredibly poor and has big gang violence problems, but they’ve actually started a Trench Town tourism thing. They got some money to rebuild the place where Bob and Bunny hung out there; the actual government yard where they hung out. Local people take turns in giving little tours around Trench Town.
It still helps to have a gang member with you: you pay some local don a little bit of money and he gives you a few foot soldiers to hang around you … you don’t have any trouble when you have the foot soldiers.
BR: Oh, man … (laughs) I’m guessing they don’t put those kind of helpful hints in the tourism books.
KM: Yeah … don’t put that in your article if you expect to get any advertising revenue from “Visit Jamaica”! (laughter)
BR: I hear you. I guess we’ll err on the side of keeping it real. (laughter) Anyway, I wanted to say that it tickled me at the end when the credits were rolling to see that Bunny was listed as an “associate producer.”
KM: I think that once Bunny realized what we were trying to do, he wanted to feel like he was part of the process in making the film. The problem in the past was the way the relationship between he and Bob and the rest of the Wailers has been misrepresented. Bunny wanted to be part of the film and we were happy to go along with that. We wanted the story to be told by the people still alive who knew Bob best.
BR: Do you remember the first time you were touched by Bob’s music?
KM: Yeah, I do – vividly. I bought Uprising in 1980 – it was, like, the third or fourth album I ever bought. I grew up in the countryside of Scotland – led a very sheltered youth, I suppose. The music not only tucked you in lyrically and melodically – there was also an air of danger about it; of rebellion; of anti-establishment about it.
It had this air of mystery, as well: “Jah? Rastafari?” You went, “What is this? What’s it about?” The music had this feel of righteousness; of rebelliousness; and yet also had a feeling of peace. I remember listening to Uprising and finding it endlessly exciting, intriguing, and mysterious.