Edinburgh International Film Festival 2011: Bob Marley - the Making of a Legend

Esther Anderson during the Vows of Nazirite
Esther Anderson during the Vows of NaziriteEdinburgh International Film Festival

This film by Esther Anderson and Gian Godoy, currently showing at the EIFF, promised to be an intimate and kaleidoscopic portrait of the making of a legend.

There is little doubt that Bob Marley is truly a music legend, whose influence stretches across the world. For many, his music expresses the link between religion, politics and Reggae, and is a voice to express the changes in the political and social landscape of the 1970’s.

The footage shot by Esther Anderson, Marley’s long term partner, in the 70’s was indeed intimate, but sadly lacked focus in both the visual and narrative sense.

Disappointingly, the documentary failed to deliver its promise to reveal ‘[the degree to which] her original vision set in motion the radical change in perception and consciousness, both musically and socially around the world.’

On the whole, the film did not set out clearly the events that affected Marley and how these were interpreted in his music. With the occasional exception, it only gave a tantalising hint of the circumstances of the time. This meant there was no coherent sense of how events and experiences of Jamaica in the 1970’s were influencing Bob Marley and the Wailers development.

The images, shot on a Sony video camera, were as grainy and indistinct as might be expected, and without a clearer direction failed to engage the audience.

The novelty of being a voyeur looking at the great legend’s home movies soon wore off when if became clear the narrative was as grainy and unfocussed as the footage itself. The sound was of similarly poor quality, so the words of the great man, which should have been inspiring and insightful, were indistinct and lacked emotion.

A missed opportunity, this film could have made much more impact and emotional connection with some good editing and better context.

However, there are some rare gems in the footage. An interview with the elderly widow of Bongo Macky was a fantastic resource, giving voice to the social history of the time, but again, would have benefited from more careful editing.

Other high points include footage of Esther herself on Jamaican television in the 70’s. This revealed her to be an intelligent and engaging young woman, articulate in her quest to communicate her beliefs about the role of music in communicating social change.

Marley, however, communicated through music and lyrics but his words in this film were ironically far less enlightening than Esther’s. One scene where Bob and friends discuss the problems with the electrics of the jeep, was so prosaic that it might have been intended to be amusing. Instead it was a frustrating waste of film time. Let’s face it, many of us can hear men talking about car trouble at home.

Other priceless moments included footage of the first Wailers Rehearsal at Island House that, for Marley fans, would have been hugely emotional. Those of us looking to explore the connections between social change and Reggae music were left feeling frustrated that we had been close to the events but had somehow missed the meaning and significance. I felt that I had been invited in but had managed to look the wrong way at the most important moments.