To the Ritzy in Brixton during rain-soaked yesterday, to see the Bob Marley documentary. It’s a lovely piece of work, a little long, but soaked in genuine love for its subject. In fact, its adoration is a little heavy at times, but there’s a useful counterpoint to it in the film itself, in the shape of the remarkable women in Marley’s life.
As we know, there were a lot of women in Marley’s life, from the girl down the street in Trench Town to the daughter of the dictator of Gabon (both of them are interviewed). But time and again there are women in the film who either tear up a little at his memory (like the extraordinary German nurse, now in her 80s, who looks like a little girl again when she recalls his time in the clinic in Bavaria) or who look at the adoring filmmakers (most of whom, I’m guessing, were middle-class Brits with an extensive collection of vinyl) with a raised eyebrow and a knowing smile, not saying what they are thinking: “He’s a God to you, but to us he was a man, and like all men he was on occasion a pratt.”
Rita Marley has a half-smile throughout the film, as if in possession of secret knowledge that makes the whole film a huge joke.
Cindy Breakspeare, the former Miss World who became Marley’s girlfriend, described evenings on 1970s English trains frantically scrubbing off make-up in time to meet Marley in the accepted Rasta fashion, hair covered and no make-up.
Diane Jobson, Marley’s lawyer, is the most sardonic of all of them, still with her hair covered and still without make-up, saying of the assassination attempt on Marley and the subsequent concert and adoration: “What more do Jamaicans love than a man who just survived a gunfight?”
And finally, the achingly beautiful daughter, Cedella Marley, who makes a poignant contrast to her brothers Ziggy and Jacob. They tell male stories of Bob the footballer, Bob the runner, Bob the competitor; she aches of abandonment and resentment, unwilling to understand a father who adopted a world but left family after family behind.
The film has some cheesy but still powerful stuff over the closing credits, showing people from dozens of nations singing Marley songs. As we filed out, I took a look at the audience. Black and white, old and young, male and female. Cedella notwithstanding, you can’t say the guy didn’t make a difference.