|'an enigma, wrapped in a massive amount of cannabis smoke, hidden inside a hat with CDs stuck to it'|
Lee 'Scratch' Perry is an enigma, wrapped in a massive amount of cannabis smoke, hidden inside a hat with CDs stuck to it and a boot with a picture of former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie in the sole (or should that be soul?). Bob Marley's former producer, Perry is now part artist, part poet, part singer, part slightly rough-around-the-edges village odd man. Volker Schaner's Documentary, Lee Scratch Perry's Vision of Paradise spans the course of several years and takes in footage Perry filmed as well as interviews and time with the man himself, to try to get to the bottom of his split with Marley, his life and religious views, creation, the universe, power structures and everything else.
The findings are unsurprisingly mixed and occasionally a little vauge. Schaner does provide both the film and Perry with some much needed structure, despite the man himself's attempts to encourage otherwise. 'My mind is inside the computer', Perry declares to a Times journalist, in one segment. 'Your com-pu-tah?', she replies. Perry's declarations are sometimes so out there, you do wonder if he is partially baiting those he talks to, in this case possibly successfully.
There is certainly though some weight behind some of his musings and Schaner is careful to treat Perry as something approaching a respected philosopher. Just because the wrapper might look a little strange (at one points he adorns himself with seaweed dreadlocks and declares 'I am the original dreadlocks'), doesn't mean that he isn't saying something interesting. The director's dedication stretches to visiting Ethiopia, where he talks to several holy men and discovers the basis for the Rastafarian religion Perry follows and, in part, helped to define and spread in Jamaica during the 70s and 80s.
The links between religion, culture, music and identity are drawn well, but at perhaps a little too much length. By the finale, Perry's repeated declarations about the sun, the International Monetary Fund, churches and others have been made too often and hardly explored any further than the surface, though the kitsch animation does help.
The film is also worth noting for a genuine moment of studio magic (surely the holy grail of Music Documentaries) as Perry hums out a bass line, gets collaborators The Orb to add it to a track and instantly improves the whole thing. In the same segment his Facebook joke (or is that revelation?), which involves his face and a bible is not to be missed.
The 29th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-19th November 2015 at venues around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House, Cottage Road Cinema and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.