Monday, 19 December 2011

We jammin'! - The legend that is Bob Marley

The weekend saw a fabulous time spent at the premiere of Esther Anderson's 'Bob Marley, The Making of a Legend' at the BFI Southbank. Arriving a little late at the venue, I endured a confused forty or so minutes starring incomprehensively at the screen as interviewees rattled away in rapid fire Italian, with subtitles provided for us lost ones. More than once I wondered if I'd walked into the wrong auditorium, and if it wasn't for the relevance of the subject matter - a documentary on the largest Reggae festival, Rototom - I might have abandoned the whole thing. 

I'm glad I didn't.  

Half an hour later, a woman took the microphone to introduce the next film, and I stared, mesmerised, as I realised that I was looking at Esther Anderson, the 'other woman' who had been in Bob Marley's life. 

I know and like a few songs by Bob Marley. Personal favourites include Redemption Song, Is this love, Burnin' and Lootin' (which Mathieu Kassovitz used in the opening sequence of his film La haine where I first heard the song. See video below), and I have always found the storyline of I Shot the Sheriff amusing. So it is somewhat riveting to discover that it was Esther's doctor in Knightsbridge, one Dr Henderson, who inadvertently inspired the song, and is the proverbial 'sheriff' that is shot - because Marley was against his giving birth control pills to 'his woman' ('Every time I plant a seed, he kills it before it grows.')  However little I know of his songs - and I am quite musically clueless - my knowledge of the man Marley himself is negligible. I should perhaps have taken advantage of meeting Rita Marley to chat with her about him, but hey, I was twelve and my immediate preoccupation was how many more chicken pies I could eat, not an intellectual conversation about this unforgettable son of Jamaica.

And yet, the decision to go to the premiere was made within a millisecond of reading about it in Friday's Evening Standard newspaper - egged on by this particular statement Esther made in the article: 'Being in love with Bob Marley was a very private matter for me and it's taken me 37 years to reveal this to the world.' And it is quite an intimate revelation of the man and his music, as Esther speaks for the first time about her relationship  with Bob Marley, and the time she spent filming and helping him with his songs, including an experience the two of them had of being forgotten at a hotel in Haiti which led to the writing of Get up, Stand up.    

Long-lost footage found after 37 years of Marley at home in Jamaica is interspersed with contemporary shots and interviews from the families of the people who shaped the reggae legend into the man the world came to know: there is an interview with Marcia Higgs, daughter of Joe Higgs, the vocal coach who taught Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer to harmonize in the days when they would sing on the street corners of Trenchtown, Jamaica; a touching contemporary scene with a reminiscing Mother Macky, wife of Bongo Macky, surrounded by her children and grandchildren singing Fly Away Home, a song Marley later recorded and called Rastaman Chant.    

In parts mundane, and in others touching for its intimate portrayal of now widely-known names, the film showed an authenticity that put Marley in a different light to the predominant image of a weed-smoking musician. This was about the music and the revolution, and the fiery social and political awareness therein.  And for her part Esther was vivacious and quirky, especially during the lively Question and Answer discussion after the show. What a spunky woman, I thought. And I remarked as much to a photographer friend of hers I happened to be standing by. He smiled warmly in  her direction and said, 'She is definitely punchy!'

Later on, I stood by the bar quietly sipping tap water on ice - (these are hard times) - and realized with a jolt that the woman herself had materialized at my side, and was demanding mulled wine from the clearly charmed bartender. He shook his head regretfully to indicate that he had none, and I'm sure both he and I were equally enchanted by the girlish petulance with which she said, 'Aw, all I want is a glass of mulled wine!' Turning around and noticing my sympathetic smile, she winked at me, 'It's Christmas isn't it? You'd think mulled wine would be the first thing they'd have!' A little starstruck at her nearness, I flashed an even bigger, slightly nervous smile, before managing to ask if the film was going to be available to view again online. 'Very soon, I hope, my dear..' she tapped my shoulder gently as she answered, and then she was swallowed up again with friends and well-wishers kissing and congratulating her on the success of the film. I do wish I could have conjured mulled wine from the heavens...

There is no way I can do this review justice, but you might find this an interesting read. In the meantime, here's the video of the opening scene in La haine


Etoile Oye said...

Dava, I can't believe you of all people let this photo opportunity slip by :P
I'm jealous tho... and will keep an eye out for the online viewing. They should give you a commission on my purchase.

Davida said...

My slick photo op styles didn't kick in fast enough!