Jeremy Marre, documentarian of world music, is dead at 76
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Jeremy Marre, documentarian of world music, is dead at 76
In an undated image provided by Olivier Marre, Jeremy Marre. Marre, an English filmmaker who documented music from across the world with hardheaded clarity, died on March 15, 2020, at a hospital in London, where he had lived. He was 76. Via Olivier Marre via The New York Times.

by Jon Pareles

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Jeremy Marre, an English filmmaker who documented music from across the world with hardheaded clarity, died March 15 at a hospital in London, where he had lived. He was 76.

His son Oliver said the cause was stomach cancer.

Marre established his reputation in the 1970s and ’80s with “Beats of the Heart,” a 14-part series of hourlong documentaries initially shown on British television and later on public television in the United States. With a minimal camera and sound crew, Marre visited Jamaican dance halls, Brazilian favelas, Appalachian churches, Egyptian temples, South African workers’ hostels and Bollywood soundstages to film music and musicians on home turf that was often gritty and unglamorous.

The series presented music as inseparable from historical, economic, political, spiritual and cultural pressures, documenting musical events that most outsiders would not know about or even be allowed to attend.

Jeremy Peter Marre was born in London on Oct. 7, 1943. His father, Ivan Marre, was a dermatologist; his mother, born Olga Shlain, was a homemaker. He earned a bachelor of laws degree from University College London, but while preparing to become a barrister he decided that his real interests were film and music.

He studied filmmaking at the Royal College of Art and at Slade School of Fine Art at the University of London. He was working in film production when he got his first chance to direct: a film about British cars, financed by Shell Oil and the British government. He began proposing his own television projects, and bought the name and company registration of the defunct Harcourt Films, under which he would release all his work.

In the mid-1970s, as Caribbean immigration was changing London’s music, night life and politics, Marre made his first music film, about British reggae. He went on to visit Jamaica, reggae’s home, in 1977.

“I wanted to show the music as a dynamic political force that reflected the history, politics and aspirations of the island,” he said in a 2001 interview.

The resulting film, “Roots Rock Reggae,” featured Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and other leading reggae performers, as well as glimpses of slums and riots.

“Roots Rock Reggae” drew an unexpectedly large audience, leading to “Beats of the Heart.” Further episodes took place in China, Nigeria, Yugoslavia and Thailand, and on the Texas-Mexico border, as Marre gained access to public performances, private rituals, parties and homes.

“He was very persuasive and absolutely tenacious, too,” Oliver Marre said. People opened events and archives to him, he added, because “they’d realize he was an enthusiast and not a voyeur.”

In addition to his son Oliver, Marre is survived by his wife of 49 years, Diana Silman; another son, Jesse; and four grandchildren.

While making “Roots Rock Reggae,” Marre and his crew were menaced in the streets by Jamaicans accusing them of working for the CIA; Marre proved he was British by displaying his knowledge of cricket.

When he made “Shotguns and Accordions: Music of the Marijuana Regions of Colombia,” Marre was allowed to film at the estate of the drug lord Pablo Escobar. But when he decided to gather atmospheric scenes of fishing boats at sunrise, he and his crew were shot at; they were inadvertently filming a drug shipment.

“Beats of the Heart” revealed musical cultures barely known to Westerners. Paul Simon cited “Rhythm of Resistance,” about music in apartheid-era South Africa, for introducing him to Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Zulu choir that appeared on the album “Graceland.” Marre later made documentaries about “Graceland” and the making of Simon’s Broadway musical, “The Capeman.”

Marre followed “Beats of the Heart” with dozens of documentaries. They included “On the Edge,” a series on improvisation; “The Nature of Music,” about music as ritual worldwide (narrated, unlike most of his films, by Marre himself); “Chasing Rainbows,” a series on British pop; “The Voice,” examining vocalists as diverse as Luciano Pavarotti, Bob Dylan and Chuck D; “Latin Music USA;” and biographical films about James Brown (“Soul Survivor,” which won an Emmy Award), Jay-Z, conductor Herbert von Karajan, Carlos Santana, Otis Redding, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Big Bill Broonzy, Youssou N’Dour, Marc Bolan, Amy Winehouse, Count Basie and others.

He also made documentaries on subjects other than music: prison gangs, bioterrorism, the erotic arts of India, animal communication and the “third gender” subculture of Thailand known as Ladyboys.

Marre spoke more often about his subjects than about himself, but in 2003 he assessed his work.

“I’ve made many films about people who are outsiders, even within their own countries,” he said. “And I’ve shot real-life stories, from Madagascar to Mexico, from China to Thailand, that tell of people’s struggles to make their voices heard, and of the impact that just one voice can have upon the rest of the world.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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