Synopsis: Produced with the full co-operation and support of his family, the incredible and tragic story of Marvin Gaye is told through exclusive interviews with family, friends and stars, each giving us insight into Marvin’s approach to his life, his music and his spirituality.
Family archive footage reveals his self-imposed exiles to Ostend, Belgium and to Hawaii. The story portrays the making of the album ‘Let’s Get it On’ and rare performance footage of his first European tour. We are given a deeper insight into his bouts with drug abuse as well as his seemingly triumphant return to Los Angeles, which led to his tragic death on the eve of his 45th birthday on April 1, 1984.
This is the story of a man who has left behind a musical legacy that continues to influence all of us today. His music still inspires many major contemporary artists and is being rediscovered by a younger generation of music lovers. His 1982 Grammy Award and 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have permanently enshrined him among the greatest of all musical legends.
In recent months I got bitten by the Marvin Gaye bug. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan (in fact, I was underwhelmed by his two classics ‘What’s Going On’ and ‘Let’s Get It On’ when I first heard them, a couple of years ago), but I knew that I should probably give him another try. So, lately, when I got the chance to pick up some of his albums in deluxe, 2CD editions filled with outtakes, other yummy bits and extensive liner notes, I decided that it was time.
I’m still not a convert, but I’m starting to get the appeal. And, actually, I’m enjoying all the extra tracks as much if not more so than the albums themselves – so I’m very glad to have picked up the expanded versions, even if they were more expensive than the regular ones. So far, I’ve explored ‘What’s Going On’, ‘Let’s Get It On’, ‘I Want You’, and ‘Midnight Love’. I also have ‘Live at the London Palladium’ and a 2-disc live set ready to be popped in.
So when I stumbled upon this DVD documentary on the r&b legend I didn’t even hesitate to snatch it up. The liner notes for the aforementioned albums had provided me with some background history on that whole period in Gaye’s life, but I felt the need to fill in the blanks, and to cement what I had already learned. Given that it features interviews with family, friends and colleagues, as well as snippets of live performances, I figured that it would provide enough insight into the man.
Unfortunately, the film is a mere overview of the same period that I am already somewhat versed on. I was amazed to see that it jettisoned his early personal life, rocketed through the ’60s, his earliest successes, cruised through much of the ’70s mostly to focus on his final years – and even then, in no great detail. Thankfully, I already knew about much of his life, so I could fill my partner in on it in the doc’s stead: his religious background, his early influences, the impact of Tammi Terrell’s death, the significance of his seminal works, ‘What’s Going On’ and ‘Let’s Get It On’ and the personal drama behind his following efforts.
I’ve seen documentaries start with a quick run-through and then come back to give a proper account of their subject, but ‘Behind the Legend’ doesn’t do that – it is quite content to keep moving forward, only barely looking back. It’s a real shame that ‘Behind the Legend’ doesn’t go deeper than this, because not only is it not thorough, it pretty much assumes that viewers are already partially familiar with Gaye’s story; a novice would get lost in its nebulosity within the first 10 minutes of the programme.
On the flip side, as a minor fan, an explorer and completist, my enjoyment of this documentary was higher than normal. Although I recognize its weaknesses and its limited value for most, I was very pleased with the number of people that were interviewed for this and the fact that it featured a relatively large palette, including his colleagues, family members, …etc. To me, while it wasn’t exhaustive, this was essential in understanding the emotional, more personal side, of the equation. Admittedly, some of the testimony sounded insincere (Anna Gaye’s assertion that it was okay with her if Marvin macked behind her back sounded like BS to me), but it was nonetheless enlightening.
In the end, though, ‘Marvin Gaye: Behind the Legend’ doesn’t get behind the legend so much as glances adoringly at him. It’s a form of tribute to a man who was appreciated, if not loved, by many of the people around him (his father excepted, one supposes ). It’s also an appealing look at a musical genius who lost his way but still managed to take millions of people on a journey through the spiritual and sexual in tandem through his creations. Die-hard fans with softer expectations could do worse than to watch this amalgam of images and recollections. The casually interested however, would do better reading a wiki bio instead if they really want to know what’s going on.