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Originally published Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 3:03 PM

Movie review

'The Upsetter': Lee 'Scratch' Perry documentary has a great beat

A review of a documentary about musician Lee "Scratch" Perry.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'The Upsetter,' a documentary by Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough. 95 minutes. Not rated. Grand Illusion.

quotes Definitely looking forward to checking out this documentary after I checked out the... Read more


As far as music eccentrics go, it's hard to find a better documentary subject than Lee "Scratch" Perry, the man who pioneered reggae music and invented its offshoot dub in Jamaica in the 1970s.

Art surrounds Perry — from his rambling, thickly accented speech, to his George Clinton-esque ornamented dress, to the fact that he draws and paints all over every surface he can find.

"The Upsetter" has a lot of material to work with. And since Perry was one of Jamaica's top producers in a fertile time, the soundtrack to Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough's documentary is taken care of.

The most exciting parts of the movie come when we realize how influential this so-called madman was. His recollections of nurturing and recording Bob Marley are priceless — Perry was Marley's life coach and musical advocate.

Narrator Benicio Del Toro explains some of Perry's more indirect gifts to the world — hip-hop and the concept of the remix, which rose from dub's heavy mixing-board manipulations and Perry rhyming over them.

The question of Perry's madness is brought up — is he or isn't he? — but the filmmakers ultimately leave it up in the air, suggesting it's not important to decide. After all, Perry's crazy music experiments gave us so much. Isn't that enough?

Andrew Matson:

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