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Palm Pictures presents
Scratch (2001)

"As Uncle George Clinton say, 'One nation under the Groove.'"
- Afrika Bambaataa

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: October 03, 2002

Stars: DJ Qbert, DJ Z-Trip, Afrika Bambaataa, DXT
Other Stars: DJ Quest, DJ Mysterio, DJ Krush, Rob Swift, Jay Slim, DJ Faust, Shortee, DJ Cash Money, Steve Dee, DJ Z-Trip, Snayk Eyez
Director: Doug Pray

MPAA Rating: R for language
Run Time: 01h:31m:14s
Release Date: September 17, 2002
UPC: 660200304621
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-BA- B+

DVD Review

Scratch is a film about hip-hop. It is not, however, a film about rap. You see, rap is simply the rhythms and rhymes of a performer (the MC). Hip-hop is a fusion of dance, clothes, and, perhaps most significantly, the DJ, who lays down the beats that drive the audience using only two turntables, a microphone, and a mile-high stack of old records.

Director Doug Pray paints a detailed portrait of the world of the hip-hop DJ, offering enough background to draw in those who find this complex subculture rather alien while not spelling things out to a degree that would annoy the aficionado. Through interviews with influential talents and up-and-coming stars, Pray delves into the history of the musical genre, from its roots in the black cultural movements (in particular the Zulu Nation, founded by hip-hop pioneer Afrika Zambaataa) in the 1970s, to the seminal performance of DJ DXT on Herbie Hancock's Rockit, the first song to employ a DJ "scratching" a record (using the turntable to create a unique percussive element), to its current popularity through scratch contests, "turntablists," and "beat jugglers."

Pray wisely avoids including any voiceover, rather preferring to let the artists (and once you see some of the amazing live performances in this film, you'd be hard pressed to call them anything else) speak for themselves. Three time World Champion scratch artist DJ Qbert talks about the experience of seeing Rockit on television when he was younger, and how the song opened up a whole new world to him. In fact, so many DJs credit DXT with introducing them to the world of hip-hop, he argues that every time one of them scratches a record, he should be paid a dollar.

The music drives Scratch, perhaps the only documentary with a soundtrack suitable for playing at parties, and the stylish editing, timed to the pulse of the mixmaster DJs, keeps the energy level high, but it's the sense of perspective that really drives the narrative. Pray follows innovations in scratching through the eyes of the DJs, but he also takes time to focus on the looming over-commercialization of the form. With turntables outselling guitars at music stores, and increased mainstream awareness, scratching could quickly become a passing craze, and a valuable, vibrant musical form could be lost. One DJ visits the basement of an old music store, brimming with hundreds of thousands of old records, searching for the perfect "breaks" (short portions of a song that DJs transform on their turntables), lamenting the fact that so many DJs today are content to buy commercial collections of popular breaks, and that "digging" for unique oddities has become a lost art.

I knew next to nothing about scratching prior to watching Scratch; I walk away from it with a healthy appreciation of those who can do it. A clip near the end of the film features interviews with some stuffed-shirts at a recording industry conference who call what the DJs do "unpleasant noise." If she'd seen this engaging documentary, I doubt she'd be able to write them off so easily.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Scratch is, of course, a documentary, which means that film stocks vary a bit and most shots show some grain, but overall, the image is actually quite nice. Images are generally very crisp with no obvious artifacting or edge enhancement. I also noticed no significant aliasing. Since most of the material was shot on video, darker scenes have a tendency to look rather muddy—blacks are nice and deep, but lack detail.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 track on this disc really brings the music to life. Throughout, speech is always clear and understandable, even when coming from archive footage, but it's during the musical sequences that things really pick up. LFE is great, adding a kick to each performance, with the scratching and samples filling out the front soundstage, with support from the surrounds. This is an impressive mix, even more so when you consider the fact that this is but a rather low-budget documentary (not usually the kind of DVD with demo-potential).

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Mad Capsule Markets, Sound and Motion, One Love: Bob Marley All-Star Tribute, Dark Days, Sex and Lucía, Wave Twisters, Mixwell: Mixing 101
8 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
12 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Doug Pray, producer Brad Blondheim
Packaging: Double alpha
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:01m:34s

Extra Extras:
  1. Braided Hair music video from One Giant Leap
Extras Review: Palm Pictures has produced some great features for this release, and tied them all together with nifty little full-motion menus perfectly suited to the subject matter of the film. For a documentary that's basically an introduction to hip-hop and scratching, what more appropriate extra is there than a "how-to" video? How to Rock a Party runs 27 minutes, throughout which DJ Z-Trip outlines how to do just that. It's a lot of fun and rather tongue-in-cheek at times. Similarly, DJ Qbert hosts five featurettes on the basics of scratching. A final, sixth featurettes is a bizarre "plumbing tips" sequence that's pretty funny.

Four excerpts from the documentary, Battle Sounds, run between two and three minutes each. Some discarded interview clips have been assembled into Soundbites, a 10 minute reel of frequently amusing clips from various DJs. A few music videos are also included, Sneak Attack from the Wave Twisters (a nifty animated clip) and Braided Hair from the film One Giant Leap.

A few more features are available on disc one. The commentary, with director Doug Pray and producer Brad Blondheim, is worthwhile. The two stick mostly to production anecdotes, describing what was going on when they captured a particular shot, but they also talk animatedly about their personal connections to hip-hop and scratching in general—it's obvious they have a lot of passion for the material. Also available are extensive bios for the filmmakers and nearly every DJ that shows up on-screen.

Finally, rounding out this impressive two-disc set is a huge trailer gallery, featuring spots for the feature, Mad Capsule Markets, Sound and Motion, One Love: Bob Marley All-Star Tribute, Dark Days, Sex and Lucía, Wave Twisters, Mixwell: Mixing 101, and for anime titles released by Manga Entertainment.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Scratch is one of the most entertaining documentaries I've ever seen. Stylishly filmed, it argues that scratching, mixing, and everything else that goes into being a great DJ takes no less musical or artistic talent than actually picking up an instrument or sitting down at a piano. Palm Pictures has done right by the film with this DVD release. Pop it in the player and rock the house.

 


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