Lee "Scratch" Perry

The Unlimited Destruction [DVD]

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Lee "Scratch" Perry's name is invariably twinned with the modifier "eccentric genius," a term often thrown at artists moving far beyond the confines of music for the masses, and Jamaica's most legendary singing producer arguably deserves the description more than most. Journalist Penny Reel gives a succinct summary of the Upsetter's career in the sleeve notes, with a handful of notable names who worked with Perry in the past providing their own recollections and reflections in the opening minutes of the DVD. And then viewers meet the man himself. The Unlimited Destruction is a documentary of the filmmakers' hours -- perhaps days -- spent in Perry's company at his Zurich home. They're there to interview a legend; however, while always gracious, the legend isn't exactly cooperating -- although he's certainly not deliberately impeding them, either. Like two ships passing in the night, the erratic Jamaican and the oh-so-serious Swiss continually slide by each other's meanings, with questions misconstrued and answers misunderstood. With Perry one constantly asks if this is all an act -- and if so, he's been performing it so long that it's now become second nature. He speaks in riddles and offers pronouncements like a prophet, as well as a stream-of-consciousness narrative that, while often looping around to the subject at hand, invariably shoots off on unexpected tangents. Even in conversation he speaks in lyrics, a series of disconnected thoughts that he leaves to the listener to weave together into coherency. The filmmakers have heightened this effect with a soundtrack, a flowing selection of Perry's own songs and productions, that is only a notch lower in volume than the dialogue itself. Add to the auditory difficulties Perry's thick patois, his swallowed words, and his singsong speaking voice, and he becomes almost impossible to follow. Better to cast one's eye about the amazing clutter of his home, studio, and yard, with every surface, walls included, covered in objects, posters, drawings, and clippings. Freud would have a field day, Jung even more so, and viewers can diagnose for themselves. Utterly fascinating, totally unenlightening, it's unlikely you will have any better understanding of Perry at the end of this film than at the beginning, but you will also no longer wonder just what an "eccentric genius" is like in person.