Once in a blue moon, pop culture is delivered a figure cut from such a radical and innovative cloth that it hardly knows how to handle it. This figure achieves such a legendary status that they reach a cult-like standing in the consciousness of others. Such is the status of reggae producer and musician Lee “Scratch” Perry, who now lives in a rarefied state replete with mysticism, pontificating at length and at will to any willing listener on all he sees and believes and continuing to make some of the most intriguing and trippy music on either side of the Atlantic. Volker Schaner’s documentary, Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise (2015) covers more than a decade of Perry’s life.
Cameras stay trained on him as he opens up and converses – often to the point of incoherent rambling – with others on any subject that happens to float up (often it’s religion, his mystic belief system, or his approach to music). Perry is, to put it mildly, a colorful character who is nothing if not vivacious to a fault. There is no main thrust or narrative followed here, as other documentaries may be wont to do. Rather, Schaner creates a portrait, a distinct vision of a many-storied life. The film is cut into sections that attempt to compartmentalize Perry, discussing either his art, his religious beliefs, his musical work and his own life. What one quickly realises is that this is incredibly difficult to accomplish.
In the attempt at subverting traditional documentary conventions, things quickly dissolve into the cinematic equivalent of drunken rambling. Schaner lets Perry exist in his own space and, at times, that proves a calamitous decision. In a effort not to constrain, the filmmaker in fact loses control – failing to incisively draw out the best bits of Perry. The result is a meandering documentary, that quickly loses its way amidst high-minded aspirations of capturing one of the music industry’s most elusive and creative figures. Adding insult to injury, when Schaner does resort to the use of conventional documentary techniques such as talking heads and voiceovers, they are half-hearted and fail to make a meaningful contribution to the overall portrait. It’s a shame, but Vision of Paradise isn’t really a vision of paradise at all. Rather, its a mish-mash of ideas, cobbled together by a filmmaker who is so enthralled with his subject that he failed to find coherence among the unbridled creativity.