The Upsetter is a tremendous boon to reggae fans, and also a source of frustration. It offers a rare visual 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, and 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), and besides being a musical genius, Perry is batshit insane. There are subtitles whenever he speaks, but it’s still almost impossible to follow his convoluted maze of words and dense imagery, 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, don’t wear a plate of fruit as a hat). I wish the directors had some 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 recent clips of Perry clowning around, which are less than two minutes combined.