The Upsetter is a tremendous boon to reggae fans, and also a source of frustration. It offers a rare glimpse of reggae’s golden era (roughly 1967-1980), and one of its giants, Lee “Scratch” Perry, who wrote, performed, or produced some of the genre’s best songs in his famed Black Ark Studios. There’s rare footage galore, which is enough to get fervent fans salivating since there’s such little visual documentation of reggae before the days of camcorders. The footage of Perry at Black Ark is worth the price of admission alone. However, on the flipside, most of the story is told by Perry himself (with additional narration by Benicio Del Toro – a left-field choice to say the least), and besides being a musical genius, Perry is batshit insane. There are subtitles whenever he speaks, but it’s still almost impossible to follow the convoluted maze of words and dense imagery he uses, and listening to him ramble for 90 minutes is draining. Besides, he’s so whacked-out that you wonder how much of what he says is true, and how much is an invention of Scratch’s weed and rum-addled brain (lesson learned: if you want to be taken seriously when you speak, don’t wear a plate of fruit as a hat and dye your beard bright red). I wish the directors had sought out input from the artists that Perry worked with (a list that includes The Clash, Junior Murvin, Paul McCartney, and Bob Marley among literally hundreds of others). It would have gone a long way to make The Upsetter more coherent and informative.
DVD bonus features: Two useless recent clips of Perry clowning around, which are less than two minutes combined.