Posted on 26 February 2011.
The storied life of Jamaican reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry is the subject of The Upsetter, a new documentary directed by independent filmmakers Ethan Higbee (Red Apples Falling, The Anti-Fascist) and Adam Bhala Lough (The Carter, Bomb The System). Actor Benicio Del Toro, who’s described by Lough as a Perry “fanatic,” narrates. The project has been in the works for seven years and is set to premiere on March 25 at Los Angeles’ Downtown Independent.
A vital influence on the music of Bob Marley, The Clash and the Beastie Boys, all of whom Perry produced, the sounds Perry created over 40-plus years helped set the stage for the advent of hip hop, dub and electronic music. “Besides just being an eccentric character, what hooked me was that through his life, you can really chart the birth and growth of reggae,” says Lough, who shadowed Lil Wayne for the much-buzzed about 2009 doc The Carter.
Adds Higbee, who’s currently directing Basedworld, a doc about up-and-coming rapper Lil B: “Lee is just real. He loved looking at old footage of himself. We played him 50 of his greatest songs and he remembered who played drums on what track, who was in the studio, what was going on in Jamaica at the time… I felt really lucky to get to spend this time with Lee and learn about what a great, hilarious, spiritual dude he really is. “
Getting Del Toro involved was a matter of persistence, the directors tell THR. “I have to credit Ethan, who never gave up on getting through the barriers to reach him,” says Lough. “We kept pursuing him, and when we finally did get through, he loved the idea… Benicio is such a professional and a perfectionist that he actually did a couple different sessions. It was a distinct pleasure working with him. He’s one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met.”
Higbee, as it turns out, first came to know Del Toro as a Perry fan while on the set of Oscar-winning movie Crash, where Higbee was a driver. “I was driving Ryan Phillipe around and playing a lot of reggae in the car. We kind of vibed on the music and he told me, ‘I came into Lee Perry through Benicio Del Toro, we were shooting a movie and we used to listen to him all the time.’ I just kind of stored that in the back of my brain. Like, ‘Benicio, he’d be a good guy to do the voice over…’ And about six years later, I was finally in a position to reach out to him. As soon as we met Benicio he was down. He’s been a big fan and supporter. We’re actuallly going to do some screenings and Q&As with him.”
For his part, the film’s star couldn’t be happier with how the project turned out. Says Perry: “This is my movie and this is the truth.”
by Shirley Halperin