Oct 25, 2018
Welcome back to Documentary Thursdays! We’re continuing our Netflix Original catchup week with another music-related documentary about the legendary Bob Marley. For other musically-themed documentaries, check out “Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami” (Episode #284), “Quincy” (Episode #270), and “Stop Making Sense” (Episode #179). And if you have any suggestions, let me know at onemoviepunch.com.
Today’s movie is “Remastered: Who Shot The Sheriff?” (2018), the Netflix Original documentary directed by Kief Davidson and written for the screen by Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist. The documentary explores the assassination attempt on Bob Marley, the political atmosphere leading up to the attack, and the lingering effects on his life and career.
Man, I love Bob Marley. And I’m willing to admit my fascination with him began with the music which made him famous, although it was weirdly ironic that I heard his songs of black liberation and global unity from mostly suburban white kids who owned his albums. But it was a lot easier to find his albums than any documentaries, or even books, and he was just one of many musical influences at the time, growing up in the mid-1990s. Fast forward to college, and seeing the iconography everywhere, and the almost instant association with marijuana usage, and suddenly Bob Marley became a lot more fascinating to me. Not just the weed part, but why him? And when the Internet became a thing, I got to learn not just about Marley’s music, but reggae as a whole and its many sub-genres, about Rastafarianism, and about the complex history of Jamaica, from the indigenous people to the slave trade to colonization and only relatively recently, independence. All that available at my fingertips in college and after graduation, with the help of more than a few online friends. And now with all sorts of streaming services at my fingertips, I can learn even more from the many documentaries out there about the man and his music, and now enjoy many more documentaries to come as we continue to unpack his amazing legacy.
“Who Shot The Sheriff?” is divided into four parts. First, a primer about Jamaican politics after gaining independence in 1962, a split between two parties backed by various oligarchs and gang leaders. Second, a detailed look at the actual events surrounding the attack on Marley’s house. Third, the effects on Marley, in particular his self-imposed exile to London, and the political impacts back on the island. And finally, a return to Jamaica, widely celebrated as a unifying act. It may never definitively answer the question, but it does provide a few clues and reasoned suspicions as to who ordered the original attack and the potential reasons why. I suspect Marley scholars will find very little new here, but even fans like myself found a few new details, and for folks who know next to nothing, it will be an eye-opening look for someone who probably only knows the lyrics to a few songs.
The style of the entire documentary is very much like a television or news channel documentary, not just because of the fifty-seven minute length. It is an interview-driven documentary, leaning on Bob’s friends, family, and business partners, along with historians and former politicians. It keeps a certain cadence, rarely letting the footage speak for itself, even when the footage is actually quite insightful on its own. I found it more than a little ironic that the documentary always had someone telling us how Marley felt, with footage of him in the background dialed back. It felt very much like the way Marley was used by the political factions to support their messaging, telling the public what they thought Marley thought and felt, even while he was speaking pretty clearly on his own. But I only find it ironic in a wry sort of way, because that’s clearly not the intention of either Kief Davidson or Jeff and Michael Zimbalist. I look forward to more entries in this documentary series, but hopefully with a bit more content and letting the footage speak for itself whenever possible. I’d say they’re off to a great start, though.
“Remastered: Who Shot The Sheriff?” (2018) is the first of Jeff and Michael Zimbalist’s investigative music documentaries, looking back on the assassination attempt on Bob Marley. While it feels very much like a television or news channel documentary, the interviewees and their insights, along with great footage, carry it beyond the formulaic structure into something new. Fans of Bob Marley should definitely check out this film, and share it with anyone who might enjoy learning just how massive and important he was to Jamaica.
Rotten Tomatoes: NR
One Movie Punch: 7.8/10
“Remastered: Who Shot The Sheriff?” (2018) is rated TV-14 and is currently streaming on Netflix.