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If you like hip-hop music, you're going to love Scratch. And if you don't like hip-hop music — or don't know enough about it to know whether you like it or not — you're still going to get a kick out of Doug Pray's engaging, exuberant documentary about "the new jazz." Tracing the hip-hop movement from its South Bronx origins in the '70s to the cutting-edge turntable club battles of today, the Sundance fave mixes interviews with ground-breaking artists such as Grand Mixer DXT and DJ Jazzy Jay with sound bytes from current stars like Mix Master Mike and DJ Qbert. The result is a film not unlike the music it celebrates: Vibrant, eclectic, loud, rhythmic, and powerful. And while the actual sound of scratching may not be for everyone, the film's earnest passion is as infectious as the beats in the breaks of the DJs' records. The musicians' wholehearted dedication to their craft is impressive — as is Pray's ability to make sense of the hip-hop culture. Covering the basics without condescension or over-simplification (though a little more elaboration might have helped some of the uninitiated), Pray saves most of his screen time for the DJs' stories and demos. Particularly fascinating are the sections that deal with hip-hop's early days; chances are, if you're not a devotee, you didn't know that it was hip-hop DJs who paved the way for the original rap stars and break dancers, for instance, or that the DJs suffered a setback when the rapping MCs struck out on their own. It's innovators like Mike (who found fame as a member of the Beastie Boys), Qbert, and their compatriots who've brought DJing back into the spotlight, filling clubs with eager dancers and fueling legions of kids to ask for turntables instead of guitars when they want to rock out. If watching Scratch leaves your fingers craving the touch of vinyl, you're in luck: The second platter in Palm Pictures' two-disc set offers both basic tips from Qbert and a superlative how-to lesson from DJ Z-Trip (another musician profiled in the film). And that's just the first beat of the song as far as extras are concerned; other goodies include an enthusiastic commentary track by Pray and producer Brad Blondheim, eight additional/extended scenes, bios for most of the interviewees, clips from the landmark hip-hop documentary Battle Sounds, a scratch notation demo, several previews and trailers, Web links, and more. Dig deep into Qbert's Do-It-Yourself section to find his funny "DIY Plumbing" spoof, and think about spending some time going through the bios before you watch the movie — knowing a little bit more about the interviewees helps give the film some context. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is strong overall (a bit grainy in spots, but such is the nature of much documentary film footage), and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, appropriately, rocks (a 2.0 stereo track is also available). Dual-DVD keep-case.
—DJ Bet-Z (Betsy Bozdech)

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