Thirty years ago, documentaries were much different than they are today. Documentaries were generally reserved for teachers wheeling in a VCR/TV combo on a cart in school while the class learned just how bad acting in history recreation videos could be. But there was a reprieve to be had. After class, you could (depending on when in the 90s) pop a tape in your Walkman or hit play on your Discman and listen to the relieving escape of ska. The power, the energy, the warm embrace was infectious. But like the reprieve of the VCR/TV combo those glorious days of ska are gone…
…or are they?
Pick it Up! – Ska in The 90s is the definitive ska documentary for both casual and diehard fans of the genre. Touting itself as “a third-wave SKAcumentary”, Pick it Up! focuses heavily on third-wave ska, but not without a brief history on the origins of ska. The pace and attitude of the film by Taylor Morden is absolutely on point. Each frame of the film bleeds with the soul and presence of ska. Narrated by Rancid, Operation Ivy, and Hellcat Records co-founder Tim Armstrong the inclusive tone of the film gives voice to a plethora of familiar names. The Aquabats, Buck-O-Nine, Fishbone, Goldfinger, Hepcat, The Hippos, Less Than Jake, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, the O.C. Supertones, Reel Big Fish, Rx Bandits, Save Ferris, Sublime, and dozens, yes dozens, more, offer up a candid and very real look into what was, how it got there, and why it really isn’t gone.
Like the sound, Pick it Up! – Ska in The 90s is an all too short punch of revitalizing energy coming in at a little over an hour and a half. Breaking down Jamaican roots in the late 50s, the two-tone style of the 70s and 80s, the east coast versus west coast (which didn’t work because, well…ska), and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones barrier breaking appearance in Clueless (as if!), there is a lot to unpack here, but it slides with ease like a good trombone. At the heart, the common beat of the run up through third-wave ska lives in Pick it Up! – Ska in The 90s; everyone is welcome and it doesn’t matter if you can’t dance, just skank your heart out.
The repeatability of Popmotion Pictures’ Pick it Up! – Ska in The 90s will make it a quick add to every fan’s catalog. What is, in truth, a documentary, becomes more of an embrace. A welcome back to friends you may have put on the backburner but gave you a voice when you may have lacked one. This is a film that captures the inclusiveness, energy, and enjoyable experience of ska itself, but in a documentary…that isn’t a documentary as much as it is a pure engaging, entertaining escape of nostalgia for some, a door to something new for others. Yeah, you’ll probably learn something. You’ll probably visit memories you hadn’t touched in a long time. This documentary, though focused on the 90s, does not suck. Ultimately, you’ll find yourself genuinely looking to Pick it Up! Ska in The 90s.