Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Get up, stand up


The defining moment of Kevin Macdonald’s film about Bob Marley’s life was both explosive and profoundly depressing for me.

Although released last year to mark the 30th anniversary of his death, the film has just reached this far outpost of west Wales.

Perhaps it was fitting that it opened here in Theatr Mwldan to mark the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence this week. But maybe we would have appreciated the chance to see this movie sooner.

However, installed in the brand new third screen auditorium at Mwldan, we spent a happy hour and a half or so following the young Jamaican’s early life and musical development in stories told by his family, friends and band members, while listening to and watching archive footage of concerts, jams and streetlife in Trenchtown. It was an unsentimental journey following the legend who when asked about success says simply: ‘My richness is my life.’

There were archive clips too of the man,  who gave away a lot of his money to the poor, talking about his life, religion and ambitions … ‘I want for everyone to live all together – white, black, Chinese – all to live in peace.’  -- One Love.

By now this Rastafarian ska reggae prophet has a huge following in the UK and Europe as well as in his home country.  Then he is persuaded to go to Africa, where he is a sensation across the continent.

It was the film of the Bob Marley and the Wailers concert, which followed the installation in 1978 of Mugabe as leader of the newly ‘liberated’ Zimbabwe, that formed an instant cold rock in my stomach.

There were scenes of the ceremony filmed live as it occurred. Mugabe takes the oath of office and I feel sick as we cut to Marley’s massive cry of freedom as he launches the celebration concert.

‘One love, one heart …Let's get together and feel all right…..’

And from Zimbabwe -  ‘… arm in arms, with arms, we'll fight this little struggle, ‘cause that's the only way we can overcome our little trouble.’

‘To divide and rule could only tear us apart; 
In everyman chest, mmm - there beats a heart.
So soon we'll find out who is the real revolutionaries;
And I don't want my people to be tricked by mercenaries.’

The cold rock of depression hit the emotions, the explosion happened in my brain.

It was reliving the moment 34 years ago when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe – a moment full of hope --  and remembering at the same time what has happened there since. It is the supreme irony of -  then - applauding Marley’s cry of freedom, while knowing what is to come. It is living in a time warp of horror.

Macdonald deals with the moment brilliantly. He swiftly moves the action from the celebration – minutes after it starts the people go wild, there is a stampede and tear gas is used to tame the massive crowd, including the band.

A moment of wild celebration is immediately suppressed. The expressions on the faces as all the people walk slowly away tells the story of years of oppression.

We know now that there was much worse to come – and it is still not over. As I watch the film I wonder if as a human race we have given up on ourselves.

The story follows the journey of Marley’s battle with cancer to his death at the age of only 36, but Macdonald does not let us dwell on the sadness there.

He moves the story on to today and shows us that Marley’s tremendous ‘One Love’ legacy lives on across the globe among the dispossessed of many races. The film ends as the credits roll with a sequence of references to the legend among popular political movements.

In Tunisia at the start of the Arab spring, people were singing ‘Get Up, Stand Up’. And that was the slogan on the wall at the point where the revolution started. In many African countries, in India and around the world Marley’s lyrics form the soundtrack to revolution. ‘In the slums of Nairobi today, there are murals of Marley and people quote the lyrics to you,’ says Macdonald in a recent interview.

He shows in his film that the legend lives on. Today people around the world still ‘stand up, get up’ and work to make ‘one love, one heart, one people’. He shows that we have not given up on ourselves yet, but reminds us that there is a great deal still to do.

*Marley the DVD is released on August 20 in the UK.