MVD Visual // 2003 // 56 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // September 4th, 2009
The complete and unexpurgated story of Bob Marley and of the life he led and the music he made.
Over the years there have been numerous DVDs devoted to the late reggae star Bob Marley (1945-1981), including at least two (Rebel Music and Legend) that examine his career and life in detail. So for Stations of the Cross to be of any value, it had better add something significant to the vast archive of Marley documentation, which is particularly difficult since this DVD, unlike most of the others, is completely unauthorized by Marley's estate or his record label, Island Records. Here's a quick indicator you can use to judge this DVD's worth: on the liner notes, the year of Marley's death is incorrectly given as 1982.
In other words, Stations of the Cross is pretty useless. Apart from a few snippets with Marley's son Ziggy and his mother Cedella Booker, the documentary is filled with secondhand reminiscences from musicians and producers who barely knew Marley but talk as if they were his best friends. It's a typical unauthorized music DVD: lots of photos and meaningless talking-head blather, but no actual performance footage. Though Island Records founder Chris Blackwell appears to give a brief comparison of Marley to Mozart, none of Marley's Island oeuvre, the music that made him a groundbreaking and influential star, is actually heard in this film. Instead, the only songs heard are from Marley's early pre-Island period when he recorded in Jamaica under the tutelage of producer Lee "Scratch" Perry. These songs are not without merit, but they're all songs that Perry wrote and molded in his style, so they're not at all representative of Marley's abilities. In a singular lack of imagination, the film's producers really only use one song, "Small Axe," over and over again. It's a nice tune, but you'll be heartily sick of it well before the end credits.
If the musical content is meager, the informative content is worse. Though the film gives an adequate but brief retelling of Marley's early years, it completely skips over the most important of his life -- the Island years. None of Marley's seminal Island records are discussed at all, nor are there any insights into Marley's relationship with his bandmates Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, both of whom became hugely significant figures in their own right. There's also no insight into how Marley developed his vision as a songwriter and bandleader, nor about how he broke through as a mainstream star even as other reggae artists struggled outside of Jamaica and England. Instead, some figures of minor importance give their pedestrian opinions on Marley and his music in the dullest, most longwinded way possible. The only notable content is an interminable interview clip with Marley from 1976, in which the interviewer presses him on marijuana and Rasta culture. It's not exactly an incentive to spend money on this DVD. Even the brief snippets from Marley's family are trivial.
Technically, the package is also nothing to get excited over. Both the 4:3 full-screen transfer and the PCM stereo mix are adequate but hardly stellar. The DVD comes with a small photo gallery and, as a bonus, is packaged with a CD containing several interview segments with Marley. However, the combination of poor sound quality and Marley's exceptionally thick Jamaican accent make this an extremely frustrating listen.
Ultimately, Stations of the Cross isn't worth much. A skimpy documentary packaged with a dubious interview disc is hardly tempting to fans, especially when there are much better DVDs available. Anyone interested in Marley's music is advised to start with either the volume of the Classic Albums series dedicated to Marley's 1973 album Catch A Fire or the Live at the Rainbow concert DVD instead. At an outrageous list price of $21.95, this is an extremely poor buy.
Guilty of adding nothing of value to the subject.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
* Full Frame
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 56 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery
* Bonus CD