2 out of 5 stars
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shadows A feature doc about the roots of "turntablism" is probably a marginal commodity, and indeed it's not terribly easy watching for non-fans. But it's quite intriguing to follow the birth and growth of hip-hop music over the past 20 years, and you can't help but gain a new appreciation of it. The film traces the very early days when DJs were experimenting with new sounds, from the pioneering Grand Master Wizard to the breakthrough work of Grand Master DXT (on Herbie Hancock's "Rockit"). Through interviews and performance clips the film follows these and other innovators, taking what was initially an intriguing sound and turning it into a form of music all its own.

The documentary itself is very straightforward, indulging in scratch techniques only a few times (thankfully!). This slightly restrained approach makes the whole thing more effective and informative, although it limits its artistic value as cinematic art. But it does let the personalities of the artists come out in all their glory. Some of these people are hilarious, larger-than-life characters, and watching them talk about jiggling vinyl discs on a turntable seems quite silly at the beginning until they prove their mettle in front of us. The sounds and rhythms are energetic and often beautiful, and watching these artists experiment and come up with new techniques is fascinating. It's also thoroughly educational for outsiders who don't understand, for example, the difference between a DJ and an MC. But to be honest, this couldn't have been a terribly difficult film to assemble; it doesn't have the sweep of depth of a truly great documentary. And it feels like a 30-minute short stretched over 90 minutes with a lot of performance stuff and self-indulgent clips that reinforce at every turn just how vital and important this music is. Which is something we might take more seriously, perhaps, if it was less focused on DJ battles and more centred on making music.

cert 15 strong language 8.Aug.02

dir Doug Pray
with Grand Master Wizard, Qbert, Jazzy Jay, Steinski, DJ Shadow, Rob Swift, Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Babu, Mix Master Mike, DJ Faust, Grand Mixer DXT, DJ Craze
release US 15.Feb.02; UK 30.Aug.02
01/US 1h26

Turntablism. It's the evolution of a new form of music...
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2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall