Scratch: Not Really Worth Scratch

Call me a music snob, but I suspect the reviewers who were falling all over themselves to pour platitudes on Scratch are somewhat unfamiliar with hip-hop beyond the flatulence of Puff Daddy and Will Smith.

I wasn’t impressed by its “look ma, I can speed the film up and cut quickly from scene to scene” cinematography (if you could call it that) – MTV does it a lot better, and it’s so tired and overdone by now anyway.

I wasn’t impressed by its organization or editing, in that I think it could have conveyed much the same experience in half the time it took if it had left the more inane interviews on the cutting room floor. For instance, I really wasn’t interested in Mix Master Mike and Qbert talking about how the universe and various imagined alien cultures inspire them. Instead I’d have really liked to hear from Krush, who features in a clip but isn’t interviewed, or anyone else in Japanese hip-hop, which is mentioned more fleetingly than it deserves. In the section on “battling”, we’re informed that when you compete in the DMCs, you’re no longer competing against one other person, you’re competing against everyone else in the competition. This is hardly profound. You could say the same thing about a yodelling competition.

I thought the clips it did show of scratching were often boring and samey, and hardly explored the sheer ingenuity with which some artists use it. Kid Koala doing Drunken Trumpet, anybody? It showed Beck’s DJ demonstrating the record he made composed entirely of guitar sounds, but didn’t go on to show how that becomes Smoke On The Water in concert. It showed a clip of beatboxers completely out of the blue, but provided no commentary or follow-up. I don’t even see why beatboxing would be that relevant to the subject matter of the documentary in the first place, but if they were going to put a clip in, they might as well have put some more in, because it was bloody amazing. I could go on, but won’t.

Surely I liked something? Well, yes. I always like good beats. Qbert had a gorgeous face (pity about the height). I liked the uniting theme of how everyone seemed to have been influenced by DXT scratching on the Grammy performance of Herbie Hancock’s Rockit. I liked the jam session at Qbert’s house with Shadow and others. The clip of Jurassic 5 was well-placed and did a good job of explaining the ideal, arguably, of a DJ working symbiotically with the MCs. And I liked laughing at Cut Chemist, who is either naturally inarticulate or was just really out of it. On balance it was probably just about worth the trek to Hammersmith (Riverside Studios), but only just.

[Bizarrely, at the IMDB entry for this movie (linked above), “if you like this title we also recommend…Mother Teresa.”]