As a rule, documentary films about an individual are a combination of stock footage, interviews with “experts” on the subject, and, if you’re lucky, interviews with the actual subject of the movie. However, once in a while a film comes along that breaks the mould and goes well beyond the usual in covering its subject. Such is the case for the newly released DVD Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise, directed by Volker Schaner and released by Cadiz Music.
For those who don’t know, Lee Scratch Perry is the man credited with being the guiding force behind the birth of both reggae and dub music. It was to his studio in Kingston Jamaica a young Bob Marley came to record his songs when he wanted to create a sound more emblematic of Jamaica than the American pop music he had been singing.
It was Perry who took rocksteady and ska and formed them into the slower, bass driven, and syncopated reggae sound we know today. He also began the process of “dubbing” sounds – slowing them down and manipulating them to create different versions of songs without having to record them anew. The fact he was doing this with what would be considered, even for the times, the most basic of recording equipment, speaks not only to his technological genius, but his vision.
While his historical significance and impact on popular music is covered in this movie, it also goes far beyond and into territory few documentaries have ever ventured. Through the movie we also enter into the multi-dimensional and multi-layered world of Perry. For he’s not just and accomplished producer and performer. He is also a spiritual mystic advocating adherence to the Rastafarian world view and the overcoming of Babylon.
Director Schaner traipsed around with Perry for 15 years making Vision of Paradise. As a result he gained unprecedented access to his subject. From Switzerland to Jamaica, to concert halls and recording studios around Europe, the camera follows Perry and listens to him espouse the power of music, the greatness of Haile Selassie, (the Lion of Judea and the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 until his death in 1975) and his philosophies of life.
Throughout the film the normally static visuals of the documentary format are enhanced by the rather beautiful and, frankly mind bending artistry and animation, of Maria Sargarodschi and Normann Petkau. The colours and visions of their art work manage to not only help recreate the more fantastic elements of Perry’s thoughts, they also take us deeper into his world. We not only see and hear the man – we’re given that rarest of things – a glimpse into the soul of the artist.
The DVD release of Lee Scratch Perry’s Visions of Paradise comes complete with a second disc of bonus features – including the obligatory making of feature and photo gallery – as well as the movie. It also includes a 24 page hard cover book replete with Sargarodshi and Petkau’s art work and their descriptions of the process they took in their creation. For once the special features aren’t just throw aways filled with self-congratulating dialogue from folks talking about how great the “project” was. Instead we are given real insight into the creative process behind the film.
While it’s obvious that director Schaner, and all those involved with the movie, were fond of Perry, they didn’t allow this to interfere with the process of making the movie. They don’t comment and they don’t pass judgement – they just bear witness and let Perry speak for himself. They take care of the “Lee Perry’s place in music” interviews pretty much near the beginning of the movie – and from there on we are pulled into his unique vision of the world.
Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise is not your average documentary film, but than Perry isn’t your average musician or artist. The movie not only tells us his story, it captures his essence and brings it to life on screen. By pushing the conventions of the documentary movie out past its boundaries Schaner has created the perfect vehicle for capturing the larger than life Lee Scratch Perry on film.