dir. Pray
Opens Fri April 19
Cinema 21

With turntables now outselling electric guitars in most of the Western world, the time seems opportune for Doug Pray's (director of 1996's grunge¯umentary Hype!) Scratch, a re-tracing of the steps the turntable took from mere household appliance to bona fide musical instrument.

As stated in the press release for Scratch, " this is not a film about radio deejays, wedding DJs, or house DJs, it's about vinyl-scratching hiphop DJs who do it live." The narrow scope of the film (and moreover, deejay culture) has Pray leapfrogging between very different eras of hiphop music and technology, but to include anything else would dilute the depth with which the film explores turntablism's sliver of a stake in DJ culture. Enough of the history of the hiphop DJ is presented to explain the evolution of the art form, but the retelling is never overweighted with completism.

Pray covers the major elements of hiphop as they relate to turntablism; referencing and re-referencing the Cro-Magnon scratching on Herbie Hancock's electro classic "Rockit" and interviewing hiphop luminaries and innovators such as Afrika Bambaataa and the now largely-forgotten Stevie Dee (who is credited with pioneering the technique reserved for only the most dexterous of DJs: beat-juggling). Scratch sweepingly showcases the most intriguing turntable artists in America at the moment and, much to the dislike of those hiphop enthusiasts on the Eastern seaboard, the majority hail from the Left Coast. Among others, Pray gives due time to trip-hop/rare groove don DJ Shadow, Z-Trip (who prefers Iron Maiden breakdowns instead of the JBs), and the most famous and influential turntablist "band" ever, Bay Area's Invisibl Skratch Piklz.

Regardless of the film's cinematic virtuosity or historical accuracy, Pray has put together an animated glimpse into a subculture full of energy and vitality. To both the initiated and unaware, Scratch is a warm pronunciation of musicianship and credibility. To the guitar industry, it's more bad news.