While others attending Sundance tend to flock to the Premieres and Dramatic Competition, I always make sure to see the Documentaries. Sometimes these films rarely see life outside of the festival circuit. I make it a point to catch every documentary, since it may be my only chance to see these amazing films. I don’t think “Scratch” is going to have that problem. This film will see a wide release based on its commercial potential.
“Scratch” documents the history of DJs, also referred to as “turntablists”. The story unfolds using archival footage, interviews with DJs, and live performances, all cut to a heart-pumping, adrenaline-filled, hip-hop soundtrack. The history lesson at the beginning of the film is echoed in interviews with all the DJs: Scratching as a way of creating music was pioneered by Grand Wizard Theodore. Another innovator who really exposed the artform to a wide audience was GrandMixer DXT who can be seen ripping up the turntable in a Herbie Hancock music video from 1983; you know the one I mean. “Rock-it”. Remember? You can start humming it right now and I promise it’ll be stuck in your head all day. I personally never thought of the turntable as an instrument, but after listening to a lesson in mastering vinyl from DJ Q-Bert, you’ll be tempted to scratch a record yourself. Q-bert gives viewers a 101 course in scratching by demonstrating various techniques. The record is played no differently than an instrument and to become really good at it you have to practice to develop your talent. These are true artists, using the incredible skills with their nimble fingers and hands along with an ear tuned toward creating music.
Aside from sounding incredible (the chairs were shaking at the screening I saw) this 16mm film looks astounding. Featuring performances and interviews by DJ Q-bert, Rob Swift and the X-ecutioners, Steve Dee, Cut Chemist and NuMark, DJ Craze, The Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters, and The Beat Junkies along with plenty of others and one of my personal favorites, Afrika Bambaataa. Perhaps the best sequences involve the DJ battles. These battles have become legendary over the years, creating rivalries and epic-like performances in an effort to vanquish one’s DJ foe.
See “Scratch” for the history, see “Scratch” for the music, see “Scratch” for a lesson in scratching, but, most of all, see it for the passion. Ken Burns can talk all he wants about Jazz, but I prefer the smooth hip-hop sounds of the modern DJ.