. . . Grandmaster Flash

. . .

Movie Comment: Scratch

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, or a coherent one, and I don't wanna spoil that: kung fu magic fingertips throughout, gangstas begone, and gloriously airheaded interviews in the grand tradition: it's nice to be cheerful at a movie! Happy virtuoso DJ geeks at work are much more cinematic than happy virtuoso computer geeks at work. If the Olympics had included turntablism, I'd've watched 'em. As it is, we'll watch this instead.

Don't go for history lessons, though. The director's never exactly been Johnny-on-the-spot (he started his earlier "Seattle Sound" documentary in autumn '92), and his turntablist interests obviously sprouted very late into a very young surburban life. As a result, he's able to transport us into an altered universe where the hip-hop spirit hippety-hopped from the sullen beats of Afrika Bambaata right over the entire decade of the 1980s into the director's fellow young suburbanites, and where, just to mention the most disturbing skip in the record, Grandmaster Flash -- maybe DJ-ing's greatest innovator and biggest early star, and for sure the first DJ to solo a single -- barely registered.

Instead, the seminal DJ moment is made out to be Herbie Hancock's 1984 "Rockit," I guess 'cause it was played during the Grammies so you could see it on TV with your parents. (MTV wasn't so crazy about hip-hop back in the day.) But, man!, that was five years after Kurtis Blow started recording, three years after Blondie declared "Flash is fast, Flash is cool," two years after The Message hit the mainstream charts and Wild Style played the theaters -- I can't even remember Hancock's single all that well, there was so much crossover popping around then....

The nifty thing is that now we get to understand how disturbing it must've been for 1940s and 1950s rock-and-rollers to hear folks in the 1960s and 1970s call "Rock Around the Clock" the first rock-and-roll song. Like, "Bill Haley!? Who the fuck was Bill Haley!?" And with understanding comes compassion. Or mutual mockery, same thing.


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