A review by Oliver Johnston for The Upcoming.
Making a documentary about a seminal figure in the music industry is a tricky proposition. Lee “Scratch” Perry’s fingerprints can be found all over the formation of modern reggae as a producer, writer, and singer, and these fingerprints are still visible today. He is certainly a fascinating, contradictory man and so it doesn’t feel quite right that Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradiseis such a straightforward documentary. While a music documentary doesn’t have to act as a biopic of its subject, we should gain a tangible sense of just why Perry is such a revelatory individual… and we almost do.
There are tantalising glimpses of what makes Perry so very unique, and there are several mentions of his production work on Bob Marley’s early recordings. These are certainly valid references and they provide a valuable point of reference for the uninitiated. Perry is a highly accomplished musician in his own right, and the film makes great use of his music, which manages to be both sharp and soothing, and is simply sublime.
At one point the gently authoritative narration tells us “to understand him, we must first look to where he came from.” Attempting to understand such a glorious bird of paradise (with a garish wardrobe and dyed beard to match) is perhaps a mistake. Perry should remain a wonderfully rambling enigma, as his nonsensical answers to some by-the-numbers questions demonstrate. His mentions of conquering vampires and having the Queen of England under the soles of his shoes are particular highlights. Some of the things he says would not seem out of place if you were to hear a homeless person having an in-depth conversation with himself at 3am at a train station, and yet with Perry, such magical utterances form the basis for a truly inspired world view. It just so happens that these ramblings go hand-in-hand with the creation of music that is undeniably remarkable.
The surreal animated interludes do more to give us a sense of Perry than the various numerous (and sometimes overused) talking heads who rightfully assure us that Perry is indeed a musical genius. Perry is a wonderfully wild creature, and this does not appear to be in danger of changing as he approaches his 80th year. It’s a mild disappointment that the film that purports to be his Vision of Paradise is just a little too tame, although still highly watchable.
Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise is released in selected cinemas on 5th February 2015.