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Lee Scratch Perry's Vision Of Paradise Movie

Lee Scratch Perry's Vision Of Paradise Movie

Lee Scratch Perry's Vision Of Paradise Movie

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The world is undoubtedly a better place with this memento.

‘Big Up’ to Volker Schaner on his well made documentary-style movie on the legend that is Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. For those wishing to secure some insight as to the artist’s development, disposition and dent, this work sits comfortably alongside Perry’s own voluminous musical output and David Katz’s extensive bio (People Funny Boy – Omnibus Press). It is also a welcome addition – with a soundtrack comprised of over 40 Perry inspired numbers - to a swelling visual reservoir of roots reggae related releases.

Lee Perry - Vision of ParadiseDeploying clever animation, the movie covers a host of Perry-related themes. These span Jamaica’s torrid history, the disastrous impact of the superpowers thereon to the influence of Ethiopia, Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie on the maestro’s maturation. It opens with a range of tributes from reggae luminaries, describing Perry as the ‘godfather of modern dance’, the ‘ultimate space traveller’, ‘one of late 20th century music’s most important people’ and the all-important ‘spark’ that set Bob Marley up to become ‘the messenger’.

Many will be interested in this Perry-Marley relationship and eventual split, which is addressed in terms of Marley’s alleged greed and Perry’s influence on the superstar, with the latter claiming to have enabled Marley to open his mind to the musical potential of spirituality and righteousness.

Perry enthusiasts will also find Schaner’s work of interest for his exploration of the life and legacy of the legendary Black Ark studio, Perry’s lifelong love affair with stones, his influence on dub and the ongoing tug-of-war with the Devil himself! Related thereto is Perry’s ‘shaman’ like behaviour, which is accompanied by commentary on his painting and preoccupation with poetic word play. The artist’s love affair with animals, machines, drums and fire also feature - to the extent that in one clip he does well not to go up in flames himself – just like both his Black Ark studio in the 1970s and his Swiss-based studio (subsequent to the movie’s release).

Moving on from his Black Ark cinder-status fall-out with the Rastas and relocation to Europe in the 1980s, the movie introduces viewers to the artist’s idyllically set Swiss home, where U.S. visa problems - the perennial problem of so many Rastas – also merit mention. This is ably balanced with a visit to his poverty-ridden roots in Hanover, Jamaica, a visit that extends to a strained exchange with his ailing Mother.

One of the movie’s (many) welcome inserts is his (2012) work with ambient house music makers the Orb – prompting a series of humorous anecdotes and some insight to Perry’s interactive and influential studio style. However, fans of the Queen of England, the Pope, the International Monetary Fund and related financial institutions will not be enamoured by – but probably won’t lose too much sleep from – coverage of the artist’s disdain for their influence on the human race.

As with any work of art, this movie has its detractors. The main criticism levelled at Schaner’s movie is that he is too close to his subject to deliver an objective assessment – warts and all – of the genius that is Lee Perry. This is true, insofar as the film does what it sets out to do – pay homage ‘in soft focus’ to a musical maestro. Hence, Perry’s many limitations are not addressed and his detractors don’t get a look in.

For example, he is far from No. 1 in Bunny Wailer’s ‘all-time favourites’ list. Talking to United Reggae in 2014, Wailer exploded: "I want nothing to do with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is bad luck … Lee Perry is piracy, there is no respect."

Furthermore, when analysing his musical contemporary Van Morrison’s powerful combination of voice, music and words, one critic concluded that the words were always by far the weakest of those three Morrison components. In Perry’s case, the weak link is the voice. To which one could conclude that it is a credit to him to have scaled music’s heights (to Grammy award level), despite being denied this important asset when ‘Jah\God’ was (generously) doling out the gifts.

The many limitations of the influential Rastafari religion also escape analysis, whilst the assertion that ‘the devil people are the police and soldiers’ is left hanging. Such broad assertions fail to acknowledge that there’s a bit of the devil to be found in all walks of life (including music) and might provoke a cynic’s retort that the next time you’re in a ‘spot of bother’ Mr. Perry don’t call the police, call a rasta!

The movie runs to one and a half hours, and undoubtedly only the most reggae-addicted viewers will find it all easy viewing. Some argue that not enough celluloid hit the floor at the editing stage. There might also be an argument that if the Jamaicans had their inputs sub-titled, why wasn’t the German narrator subjected to the same (helpful) treatment?

The movie also overlooks some of Perry’s significant musical connections (e.g. the Clash, Beastie Boys) and neglects mention of his acumen in maintaining a presence via recordings, social media, film and touring – all of which are both a blessing for him and those lucky enough to intersect his orbit.

Of course, whilst the movie alludes to his ‘madness’, there’s no doubt but that Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is unique (that is, more ‘unique’ than most) and highly creative – but far from ‘insane’. Whilst working with Perry recently he asked: ‘Do you think I’m mad?’ Having observed the musical maestro at close quarters, I had no reservations in replying ‘No, quite the opposite’. His positive disposition and intelligence is evident not only from his musical legacy, but from his capacity to survive to a ripe old age, despite the trials and torments of touring and recording. It was also evident (with his 80th birthday just passed), when Perry could be seen and heard regaling his audiences with the sweet musical refrain: ‘I am getting younger’. This healthy outlook was also evident when United Reggae asked him what was his greatest achievement, to which he promptly replied: ‘It nah come yet’!

Though not as clinically commercial as Higbee and Lough’s 2009 ‘The Upsetter’ movie – undoubtedly many viewers would gladly swop many of the movie’s exchanges for concert clips - the world is undoubtedly a better place with this memento.

So it’s a case of ‘thanks’ to Volker Schaner on his ‘labour of love’ and a job well done… and long live Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.

The Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry ‘Vision Of Paradise’ DVD is available via www.visionofparadise.de.

Tags: Lee Perry

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