Scratch (documentary)

Doug Pray’s “Scratch” is a documentary with about a million interviews and several interesting insights. After that, it’s a wonderland for fans of DJs and their fancy turntable-scratching acrobatics; it will no doubt quickly lose appeal for casual observers who aren’t interested in how Mix Master Mike learned to scratch, for example.

Scratching was done by the DJs, which led to MCs and rap artists, who would create rhymes to lay on top of the work being done by the DJs. Soon, of course, the rappers were in the forefront, with DJs and their work being all but ignored. (Admit it, you never knew what DJ Jazzy Jeff actually DID; you were just interested in what the Fresh Prince had to say.)

But their work was truly virtuoso, displaying incredible precision and dexterity in spinning the records backward or forward for just the right length of time, letting them go again, and switching back and forth between turntables for mix effects we all take for granted now. There’s plenty of footage here of some of the world’s best DJs at work, and it’s impressive, even for someone uninterested in the genre.

We see the roots well enough: Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” inspired nearly everyone. One question that goes unanswered, however, is how the scratching movement led to the hip-hop and rap of the 2000s. Modern music clearly evolved from it (though scratching still exists and is generally free of the violence and drugs that permeate those other genres); it would be interesting to know how.

Some interesting insights are given, though. DJ Qbert, regraded as one of the best in the world, is described by someone else as being one of the few role models that Filipino-Americans have. There aren’t any Filipino actors or athletes; “we have our parents, and we have Qbert,” the man says. It provokes some thought. The rest of the film provokes awe at these guys’ talents.

B (; R, frequent harsh profanity, some sexual vulgarity.)