by Liz Miller
On April 20 Marley, a documentary about the life and work of Rastafarian reggae musician Bob Marley, debuted in select theaters nationwide. Though it opened that day in St. Louis at the Landmark Tivoli Theatre (6350 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-995-6270), Gut Check was busy buying Visine and eating sandwiches. When the smoke cleared and we remembered that Marley was showing at the Tivoli, we immediately wanted to do four things: extend our quest for enlightenment toward Jah beyond 4/20; eat Jamaican food; see Marley and...something else? Sorry, we had it, and, to be blunt, we lost it.
When the craving for jerk chicken and plantains hit, we knew just where to go: De Palm Tree (8631 Olive Boulevard, University City; 314-432-5171), a Jamaican restaurant in that sits in what might very well be the most diverse collection of restaurants to ever meet a strip mall. The ambiance at De Palm Tree is relaxed and welcoming and perfect for our purposes -- the walls are ornamented with photos of Bob Marley, and the television was playing a Bob Marley concert DVD. Though De Palm Tree offers a few outdoor tables on its modest patio, we chose to sit inside and soak up the surroundings.
The menu at De Palm Tree is not huge (a sign, maybe, that the kitchen has faith in its dishes, as it well should), but it includes a tempting selection of Jamaican standards. Gut Check opted for the perfectly seasoned, smokey "Jamaica Jerked Chicken" served with rice and plantains and washed down with rum punch and pineapple-flavored Jamaican soda. (Made with cane sugar, so you know it's the real diabetes-inducing McCoy.)
Though we prepared for the meal beforehand and went in with appetite a-blazin' we still weren't ready for the zesty flavor and tender jerk chicken served with a tangy, spicy side of sauce. It took us higher, so to speak. The savory-sweet plantains were cooked just long enough, with a pleasingly springy, chewy taste and texture. By the time we made it to the rice we just poured the remainder of that side a' sauce over it and devoured it in fewer spoonfuls than one should ever eat a bowl of rice with.
Riding high, we were ready to reward our too-full bellies with a trip to the Tivoli where we absolutely didn't order a large bucket of buttered popcorn. That would be obscene. How dare you even suggest it. Our first musing on Marley is we wish we'd done some research on the film beforehand, because we didn't know that the running time is 144 minutes. Yeah, the film's running time is two hours and 24 minutes. Fortunately, it's 144 minutes that feel pretty well spent.
Our biggest gripe with Marley was how front-heavy it felt: More than half of the film focuses on the very early life and struggles of Bob Marley and his family and much less time was spent on his success, fame and legacy. Though we found our minds wandering during the film, its structure did serve an informing purpose. By learning almost more than we needed to know about Marley's philandering father, childhood struggle for acceptance and life in 1960s Trenchtown in Kingston, Jamaica, we understand a great deal more about Marley and his faith in Rastafarianism and how that influenced his work. Seeing footage of Trenchtown's slum and squalor magnified the hardship of lyrics such as, "Up a cane river to wash my dread/Upon a rock I rest my head/There I vision through the seas of oppression/Don't make my life a prison."
All in all we enjoyed Marley, but the real thrill was that jerked chicken. We probably won't sit through a second viewing of that 144 minute film, but we'll gladly revisit De Palm Tree anytime.