Scratch

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Scratch

Contemporary documentaries tend to eschew thorough journalistic inquiry in favor of smirking punch lines and flashy effects, but that's not the case with Scratch, documentarian Doug Pray's follow-up to his hugely entertaining 1996 grunge chronicle Hype! Like his stellar debut, Scratch demonstrates that Pray knows whom to talk to, what to ask, and how to cut the results together to create a feeling of exhaustiveness. For Scratch, Pray dove into the culture of turntablists, those renegade hip-hoppers and vinyl fetishists who convert old recordings into new, warped audio art. Pray approaches the genre from multiple vantage points, exploring the roots of turntablism in early rap (with extensive homage to and discussion of GrandMixer DXT, the scratcher on Herbie Hancock's breakthrough single "Rockit") and following the timeline all the way up to current, more avant-garde acts. Scratch goes digging for old vinyl with DJ Shadow, and shoots legendary spinners Mix Master Mike and DJ Qbert as they explain the method and preparation for creating what often sounds like improvised noise. The film's DVD edition delivers even further into the nuts and bolts, adding a second disc of special features that includes a point-by-point demonstration of "how to rock the party" and still more footage of table-jockeys in action. The main disc has also been enhanced, with a vibrant digital sound design that's practically a showcase for the potential of home video entertainment. Between the documentary and the extras—which also include enlightening deleted sequences about sampling and equipment—few imaginable points about turntablism remain untouched, and few well-known DJs are left out. Plus, the performance footage is ridiculously exciting, given that it consists mainly of men standing behind record players. It helps that Pray partially edits the film in a "scratch" style, jumping visually back and forth, and that he often lets the camera linger on the artists' magnificent hands. It also doesn't hurt that Scratch was shot on film, which, fairly or unfairly, gives the documentary instant heft in a digital-video world. Pray has said that it would have been inappropriate to use digital technology to make a movie about analog artists; the extra expense and effort of celluloid demonstrates his dedication to matching medium with subject, while his no-fuss style gives the story of turntablism room to tell itself. It's a doozy of a story, too, about a group of musicians who use the technology of the present and the mindset of the future to make a delicious hash out of the best parts of the past.

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