There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
In the ’60s and ’70s, France dominated the U.S. market for foreign-language films, and that wasn’t just because of cinematic revolutionaries such as Godard, Resnais, and Rivette. France also produced such American box-office champs as Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman and Jean-Charles Tacchella’s Cousin Cousine, which were sexier than anything Hollywood dared but otherwise just as bourgeois and sentimental. Now there’s a filmmaking boom in Argentina, which is threatening to become the new France—or at least the France of Lelouch and Tacchella. Except not so sexy.
Set before Argentina’s recent currency meltdown, Son of the Bride is the tale of a man overwhelmed by business and personal catastrophes. Director Juan Jose Campanella’s semiautobiographical film, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, begins with an enchanted childhood memory: Tormented by older kids, two friends take inspiration from Zorro and defend themselves. Then the film cuts from one boy’s bright eyes to the dulled peepers of Rafael (Ricardo Darin), more than 30 years later. Rafael now runs the Buenos Aires Italian restaurant he inherited from his father and is overwhelmed by taxes, an incompetent staff, and the corporate envoys who want to buy his eatery.
Life is no easier on those rare occasions when Rafael manages to leave the restaurant. His pretty, younger girlfriend, Naty (Natalia Verbeke), accuses him of neglecting her, and his stereotypically bitter ex-wife, Sandra (Claudia Fontan), complains that he’s always late for visits with their daughter, Vicky (Gimena Nobile). In addition, Dad wants Rafael to arrange the church wedding that was originally denied to Rafael’s mother, even though Mom has Alzheimer’s, which means not only that she won’t comprehend the meaning of the ceremony but also that church authorities are reluctant to sanction the renewal of vows. (Rafael’s parents are played by Norma Aleandro and Hector Alterio, the stars of 1985’s The Official Story, a rare Argentinian film of substance.)
Even the one agreeable occurrence in Rafael’s life—the return from Spain of childhood Zorro-playing pal Juan Carlos (Eduardo Blanco)—soon becomes an additional burden: Juan Carlos, who professes to be a successful actor, seems to become more popular with Naty and Vicki than Rafael. In the midst of all this, the frazzled Rafael has a heart attack. He decides to sell the restaurant, tells Naty he wants to be alone, and floats the idea of moving to Mexico. But of course the restaurateur, who’s sort of an Argentinian Ray Romano, could never be happy without the familiar aggravations of business, family, and friends.
Campanella, who co-scripted the film with Fernando Castets, has said he wanted to avoid Latin American cinema’s tendency to show only “miserable situations” and “miserable people,” even though stories of middle-class people without serious predicaments are common in Argentine films. In addition to being banal and predictable, Son of the Bride is aimlessly structured and overly prolonged, suggesting that the filmmakers couldn’t bear to jettison any development they conceived for the performers (most of whom are winning) or the characters (most of whom aren’t).
Ultimately, both Juan Carlos and Mom and Dad’s renewal of vows turn out to be sort of fraudulent, as is Rafael’s midlife crisis. Granted, what really matters to Son of the Bride is neither actions nor words, but the feelings behind them. But lukewarm filial sentiment is manufactured in such large quantities by Hollywood that it hardly seems necessary to import more.
If you think the subculture of DJs who manipulate records to make music is a somewhat narrow subject for a documentary, you’re wrong. It’s actually an extremely narrow subject for a documentary.
That’s partially because Scratch director Doug Pray focuses almost entirely on those turntablists who cut beats, excluding the burgeoning field of dance-music DJs, most of whom don’t scratch. It’s also because hiphop itself has largely banished DJs, replacing them with cheaper, less temperamental groove-makers such as beatboxes and samplers. The story begins with GrandWizzard Theodore, who is generally credited with the idea of moving a record forward and backward quickly to create the crackling, high-pitched swooshes known as scratching. According to the official history, scratching predated rapping, but the latter soon became the more significant commercial proposition while the former was relegated to a sort of street-smart art music.
At least that’s the music that Pray emphasizes. After spending a few minutes in New York with such historically significant figures as Afrika Bambaataa—who founded Zulu Nation in the South Bronx in 1973—Jazzy Jay, Kool Herc, and early breakdancers the Electric Boogaloos, the film heads West. Most of the footage was shot at DJ competitions, studios, and vinyl stores in the San Francisco area, closer to Pray’s Seattle home base, where he previously made Hype!, an easygoing look at grunge. Many of Scratch’s subjects claim to have taken early inspiration from one of scratching’s most mainstream manifestations, Herbie Hancock’s 1983 hit “Rockit,” which features Grandmaster DXT on turntables. Yet the documentary emphasizes underground phenoms, from New York’s Steinski—whose influential ’80s work with Double D wasn’t commercially released because all the samples couldn’t be cleared—to Filipino-American DJ-competition star Qbert and DJ Shadow, an arty archivist who’s better known in Britain than in the United States.
Pray does interview a few DJs who still work live with rappers and other musicians, notably Mix Master Mike (Beastie Boys), DJ Premier (Gang Starr), and DJ Swamp (Beck). Mostly, though, he accepts the notion that rap and hiphop “are two totally different things”—and doesn’t even query rappers on the role that scratching played in forming the genre. Whereas Hype! sometimes put its insider view of the Seattle scene in a broader context, Scratch resists perspective. If contemporary DJs such as Qbert and Shadow seem to be talking only to themselves and a few fellow cultists, Pray doesn’t disrupt the conversation by seeking outside commentary.
Some of the movie’s narrowness may be simply a matter of resources. Brief footage of Japan’s DJ Krush is not expanded with an interview, presumably because Krush doesn’t speak English and none of the filmmakers speak Japanese. Still, not having a budget for translators is no excuse for not thinking harder about the subject at hand. Scratch is merely lazy when it accepts as fact the rumor that turntables are now outselling guitars or uses offhand remarks from music salespeople as the film’s only skeptical assessment of hiphop. The documentary also has nothing to say about several issues its music and footage seem to raise, including the influence of Kraftwerk on early hiphop, the lack of women scratchers, and the shift from the genre’s African-American originators to its white and Asian contemporary practitioners. Though Scratch covers a lot of ground in 87 minutes, it barely, uh, scrapes the surface. CP