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See also Marty Mapes’ review of Scratch
See also Marty Mapes’ interview with director Doug Pray

Scratch is a great documentary about the birth of a new musical instrument — the turntable. The movie itself, at less than 90 minutes, is packed with informative and interesting interviews.

The Palm Pictures DVD adds another 255 minutes of bonus material, most of which is watchably good.

All that Scratching is Making Me Itch

Palm Pictures presents ... Scratch DVDEveryone recognizes the “wick wick woo,” of a record being scratched – being played forward and backwards by hand, but who’d’a thunk there’d be so much to it?

Scratch shows the history of playing the turntables, from the seventies to the present. From Grandwizzard Theodore, who claims to have invented scratching (while his mom was telling him to turn down the music), to the kids of today who attend after-school classes in scratching.

The structure of this film is impeccable, which lends greatly to the quality of this (or any) documentary. Director/editor Doug Pray follows the baton as it is passes from the original DJs of the seventies, to the breakdance DJs of the eighties, through the mainstream acceptance of Herbie Hancock’s Rockit, all the way to present-day DJs who compete in now-worldwide contests. The young punks who hung around the grand masters grew up to become the new grand masters, and the cycle continues.

The music in Scratch is interesting, both to fans and newcomers alike. Fans will enjoy seeing so many big names (Mixmaster Mike, DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist) all in one place, and non-fans will inevitably gain some appreciation into this new form of art and music.

Scratch is an eye-opener, not just on how prevalent scratching is but how musical and talented its practitioners must be in order to make a name for themselves. Even (or should I say “especially”) someone like my mother, a retired music teacher, could like and appreciate Scratch.

Picture and Sound

“Picture” was never the strong suit of Scratch. The movie was shot on film, giving it as good a look as can be hoped for, but you don’t watch this film for the amazing visuals. You do watch this movie for the amazing sounds.

In fact, in the commentary track, Pray and producer Blondheim mention that the film was always intened to be presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, which is ideal for a home theater. And indeed, particularly when there is music playing, the sound is very good.

DVD Extras

But the most amazing thing about the Scratch DVD is the wealth of extras on the two discs. The case indicates that the bonus materials run 255 minutes — or about three times the length of the movie itself. Most importantly, most of these extras are watchably interesting.

The best extra feature, one so good that I might even recommend watching it before the feature, is “How to Rock a Party” with DJ Z-Trip. This segment is a one-on-one interview with Z-Trip, who shows you the basics of turntabling, from choosing the right records, to mixing, to scratching. He reveals many of the tricks of the trade, paralleling the structure of the movie, but in a more intimate, more concise format.

Z-trip makes DJing look easy, and more importantly, makes it look fun. I am not going to try it on my old record player, but if had an hour with Z-Trip, and the right equipment, I’d definitely give it a try. If you watch two things on your Scratch DVD, watch this extra (on disc 2) and then watch the feature.

There is also a funny little sub-feature from Thud Rumble video called DIY (do it yourself) with DJ Qbert. This sub-feature contains video samples from another project. It’s a ‘how-to’ video with multiple angles and audio tracks. It features DJ Qbert giving simple lessons on the basics of DJing. This sub-feature also includes a couple of video jokes, plus an inexplicable clip called “dj spy-d and the spawnster” that you’ll just have to see.

There is also a section, not for “deleted scenes,” but for “additional scenes.” These are of interest to die-hard fans (or converted fans, like me), but perhaps not to the casual viewer. I had a specific interest in seeing the interview with Jazzy Jeff (having been turned on to hip hop by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince). Likewise wanted to see the DJ Shadow interview, because his Endtroducing is the first DJ CD I ever bought. I ended up engrossed in almost all of these additional scenes, although they really weren’t needed for the full-length feature.

Commentary Track

There is one commentary track featuring director/editor Doug Pray and producer Brad Blondheim. And although the commentary isn’t as organized and focused as, say, a Criterion DVD with a film historian’s essay, it is nevertheless one of the better commentary tracks I’ve heard.

Pray and Blondheim follow the action on-screen. They do occasionally make inane comments about the weather or the shooting schedule, but more often than not they’ll go into personal observations on the subject being interviewed, or point out the deft work of cinematographer Rob Bennett, or reveal the secrets and frustrations of editing a documentary.

What is best about the commentary is maybe not the words Pray and Blondheim say, but their obvious enthusiasm for the subject. The genuinely care about the story they tell, and it’s contagious. It’s hard to listen to the commentary and not be excited about the movie.

Conclusion

Scratch is a great documentary about the birth of a new musical instrument. On that level, the DVD is worth renting — heck, rent the VHS if you don’t have a disc player. But beyond the movie, the DVD is packed not just with extra features, but interesting extra features. And for that, the DVD earns a place in the permanent collection.