Lee Scratch Perry's Vision of Paradise.
A Review by Marcus Downbeat.
This is neither a movie nor a documentary in the traditional sense. Indeedwho would expect anything concerning the enigmatic Mr Perry to be anything other than 'unusual'? The story doesn't follow a linear path, but ratherdelves into various chapters and verses of the artist's life in a dynamicand enthralling roller coaster ride of colourful and intriguing episodesgiving an overview of some of the workings of the creative mind of the Upsetter.
There can be no denying that Lee Perry is a unique character. A one-offgenius who is probably best known for having brought Bob Marley into the spotlight of international stardom, even though his own work has always been present in the maelstrom of changing trends.
Many people - even long time fans of his music - have been left bewildered by his antics and his eccentric musical output since he famously burned down his legendary Black Ark studio in the late seventies. This film is the first time any film maker has attempted to dig below the surface and find out what really goes on in the mind of the "madman" Lee Scratch Perry.
Director Volker Schaner has devoted the last fifteen years to completing this work. He says that he first approached Lee Perry with a movie script; the idea being to make a movie with Scratch in the lead role, chasing down vampires and transgressors, but he obviously hadn't initially bargained with the creative force that is the trademark of the Upsetter, so his initial plan changed, developed and metamorphosed over the years.
Collecting footage, visiting different locations, the story gradually unfolded to reveal things that no other film maker has either been fortunate enough or had the diligence to uncover.
From his "secret laboratory" in Switzerland we are taken on various trips:
To Kingston and the black ark.
To the heart of Babylon - London.
To his spiritual home in Ethiopia.
To his "roots" and his childhood home in Jamaica.
Back to Switzerland, taking in several live gigs and recording sessions on the way, with interjections from various people who have either worked with him or been inspired by his work.
Sometimes very funny, sometimes deeply spiritual - just like his music - the life of Lee Scratch Perry is a constantly evolving living work of art. In this film we are showed the diversity and brilliance of his abilities as a painter, a sculptor, a poet, a shaman, a mystic, a magician, a comedian, as well as being constantly reminded of the brilliance of his music through the sound track of his life's work in the recording studio. It is this side of Perry's life that people are most familiar with. Everyone knows the work he did with Bob Marley, and the production work he achieved with many other artists is legendary, as is his own musical output. His collaborations with such great names as Adrian Sherwood and The Orb are also given the coverage that they deserve. Where this film diverges from previous attempts is in highlighting the astonishing power of Perry's visual art.
Perry's work is loaded with symbolism and allegory, and is constantly evolving and developing. From his paintings to his murals, collages, word 'grafitti', sculptures, and quirky interpretations of nature's own creations, his work is individual and unique. To compare his work with other artists is extraordinarily difficult, but one could possibly draw some comparison with the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat - the New York artist who was championed by Andy Warhol in the eighties. Perry has never been fully appreciated in this area of his work, and perhaps this film will open a new chapter of recognition for him in this field.
Intriguing footage takes us on a pilgrimage to the Black Ark studio where Lee's brother gives us a guided tour of the legendary studio - preserved as it was left. Fascinating footage of different rooms - all decorated with the Upsetter's trademark artwork - give us an unprecedented peek into this remarkable place.
We are whisked off to Axum in Ethiopia where we see the ancient culture that Scratch draws so much of his own inspiration from. We are shown ancient books and scriptures, and told legends and tales that are older than Christianity itself.
We meet high priests and witness spiritual rituals where we get a glimpse of the ancient culture of Ethiopia - a key to Perry's own spirituality. We are taken to Jamaica to see the Niyabinghi, and the rituals and practices that have survived the ravages of slavery and imperialism. Here we see Lee Perry as a shamanic figure.
We are taken to his family home where he grew up, and we finally get to overstand what his often-referred-to "space ship" really is - a wonderful and poignant reference to the childhood that is still evident in his persona. Skull Cave is a place that has often been mentioned in his music, and Lee takes is into Skull Cave and shows us the art that nature has created that he himself draws inspiration from.
From his uniquely designed hats bearing mirrors, CDs, and trinkets on the outside, and rastafarian symbolism within, down to his painted mirror boots containing more symbolic artwork even down to his very insoles, we see Lee Scratch Perry as a living work of art - a constantly changing and metamorphic performance artist who's never ceasing aim is to kill the devil and cast away all demons.
The chapters in the film are linked by some fascinating animated sequences created by artist Maria Rodsky which draw inspiration from Ethiopian orthodox imagery and are used to great effect to illustrate some of Lee's mystical concepts. We are shown through animated sequences the demons of addiction, greed, fear, supremacy and even the demon of bad spelling. Baphomet is banished, and spirit rain is a cleansing force for good. I found some of the soundbite talking head scenes to be a little unnecessary, but they take nothing away from the overall journey, and some contributions - particularly from Dave Katz, Adrian Sherwood and Dennis Bovell - were welcome additions. This movie is loaded with history, mystery and prophesy, and if you have any interest in the music or art of the Upsetter I highly recommend you to watch it as soon as you can.
The film premiere was followed by a lively Q&A with the directors Volker
Schaner and Daniela Schmid with Lee Perry and his wife Mirielle, chaired by Dave Katz, in which the Upsetter took great joy in explaining how he creates his rhythms with "titty titty titty, pum pum pum" - which of course raised much merriment.
One question was asked about why there was not more footage of Bob Marley (my personal feeling is that it was a film about Lee Perry, not Bob, so it really didn't need it) but the answer was that they had wanted to use tracks Lee has produced with Bob such as Kaya, Small Axe, Duppy Conqueror and Punky Reggae Party, but they were prevented from using it by Marley's estate who wanted far too much money - the demon of greed strikes again. Then it was off to the after party which was held in the Red Gallery in London's fashionable Shoreditch. Here we were treated to an exhibition of Lee's collaboration paintings and original artwork from the animation sequences by the artist Maria Rodsky - and then to top it all off the DJ played pure Lee Perry music and was joined at the decks by the Upsetter for an impromtu live PA performance - the people who left early certainly missed out on that treat.
What an amazing night.