Los Angeles based documentary film-maker Doug Pray (Hype!, Scratch, Infamy)'s latest release is Big Rig, a documentary about the subculture of contemporary truck-drivers. The film premiered at Austin's SXSW fest in March. Pray's latest production, Surfwise, is a documentary about the dynamics of a unique surfing family. The filmmaker says that the distinct common thread between each of his documentaries is that each tells the story of misunderstood individuals. "They're all subcultures... groups (that) have been misperceived. I see their characters as underdogs," he said. His first film was the 1996 documentary Hype!, which was literally about the hype behind the North West's underground "grunge scene" and how exactly that music was transformed, neatly packaged, and sold to the gullible masses. His next and even better known film (which won numerous awards) was Scratch, about the the rise and history of the hip-hop DJ/turntablist. It was followed by Infamy, a documentary about six graffiti artists plus one anti-graffiti activist.
To director Pray there is an obvious common thread between each of the films' subjects. Speaking of Hype!, Scratch, and Infamy, he said, "They're all subcultures which I never set out to do but it is interesting how things turn out. All three groups were misperceived in general and I think that's what's in common with all three. Like the way people in Seattle felt that their movement had been packaged and kind of sold to the masses as something that it wasn't -- that was a reason to make a movie because I was there and I thought 'You know what?' What the world thinks about this music community is not what they're saying it really is!' Same thing with the deejays in Scratch. It was sort of like everybody, as in mainstream America, thought they knew what hip-hop was and what the hip-hop DJs were saying was really different from this perception...It's all the same thing -- same thing with Infamy about the graffiti artists."
Before he began shooting the director mistakenly thought that Infamy would turn out to be an upbeat celebration of bright, beautiful graffiti art. Instead, it turned out be an engrossing, dark portrayal of obsessed artists who commit felonies, constantly risking jail time just to create their art. "Graffiti artists are manic depressive," confesses graffiti artist Saber in one engaging scene. Infamy is unlike other graffiti films. "Most graf films are made in such earnest from a graffiti art fan's perspective that they often overlook the human element," said Pray, who deliberately limited the number of subjects profiled in his film. "I didn't want to have 30 artists in there and just get to know a little about (each of) them. I wanted to really focus on just six artists. I wanted to make a movie where you really got to know the person, their family, their peers, their crew...One of the differences with graffiti and others is that it is really demented...It is an obsession and it is both very stimulating and it leads to trouble...it is unlike any other art because it is a felony."
Infamy didn't get nearly as warm a reception as its predecessor (Scratch) and outside of a handful of screenings (mostly at small film fests), it went straight to DVD last Fall. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful film and well worth seeing for both graffiti and non-graffiti fans alike. Also recommended for all audiences is the critically acclaimed aforementioned Scratch, which truly is an amazing film that captures the soul of the dedicated hip-hop DJ. (Full disclosure: the writer of this AMOEBLOG is one of the subjects in the film and also credited for giving the film its title.) The DVD version boasts an additional disc with four bonus hours, including the ever engaging turntable instructional "How To Rock A Party" with Z-Trip. Scratch, which can still be seen occasionally on the Sundance Channel, can be found both as a single DVD at Amoeba and other new and used DVD outlets and also in the nicely packaged hip-hop DVD set along with the film Freestyle**
Like his previous works, Doug Pray's current movie, Big Rig, about the subculture of the contemporary trucker, is also about underdogs. "Just like with Infamy, this film is about another misperceived group and I find myself often trying to correct... I see these characters as underdogs. And underdogs to me make good movies!" Pray's newest project is the film Surfwise, which he says is, "About the amazing Paskowitz family. Nine kids, all home-schooled and raised in a tiny camper by their surfer-doctor-health guru dad, Dorian Paskowitz (an 82-year-old surfer). Kind of a surf movie (they all surf) but mostly about family dynamics."
**Freestyle (The Art of Rhyme) directed by Kevin Fitzgerald (a.k.a. DJ Organic) is a 75 minute documentary about the improvisational hip-hop spoken word art form, and traces emcee battle form's roots before hip-hop and its role in hip-hop from the early eighties onward. It includes a long and impressive list of performers and talking heads, including legendary freestyle master MC Supernatural, Freestyle Fellowship, Divine Styler, Medusa, Planet Asia, Boots Riley from the Coup, Living Legends, the Last Poets, Mos Def, Black Thought & ?uestlove from the Roots, Lord Finese, Kool Herc, Cut Chemist, Bobbito Garcia, as well as the late hip-hop greats Biggie and 2Pac. Like Scratch and Infamy, the subjects in Freestyle are often misunderstood.