Best Before Death: KLF’s Bill Drummond takes another arty figary

Review: Paul Duane documents Drummond on his latest quest to confuse and bewilder

Best Before Death
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Director: Paul Duane
Cert: Club
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Bill Drummond, Paul Duane
Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins

The busy Paul Duane, domestic filmmaker of some versatility, is emerging as a cinematic Boswell to the perennially obdurate Bill Drummond. You could see Duane's What Time Is Death?, detailing the former musician's experiments in undertaking, as a sort of amuse-bouche before the more ambitious, more lavishly produced Best Before Death.

The current project details some of Drummond’s adventures in a project he dubs The 25 Paintings World Tour. Drummond would, no doubt, be happy to read that no summary of the project makes uncomplicated sense. He travels to various cities and attacks the same repeated challenges: building a bed from locally sourced wood, banging a drum while crossing a bridge, baking cakes and, without any further explanation, handing them out to puzzled locals.

Photographs are being taken. Duane is making this film. But one suspects that the experience itself – whether documented or not – constitutes the artwork. Like many involved in conceptual work, Drummond, once of hitmakers The KLF, expresses unreasonable bewilderment when anyone seems surprised by his project.

What’s to explain? His obstreperousness comes out most infuriatingly in a sequence from the visit to Lexington, North Carolina. A young man offers to drive him about the city and, having discovered that Drummond was a musician, politely asks if he worked with anyone famous. Does Drummond mention he once had a number one hit with Tammy Wynette? Does he heck.


In spite of Drummond's awkwardness, Best Before Death ultimately forms itself into a serious film

Covering the Lexington visit and one to Kolkata, the film does, however, allow in the grown-up intent that drives this singular Scotsman. As he speaks to locals in those two locales, their experiences merge with the artist’s to create shared emotional mulch. We learn a little about his upbringing. We get some sense of his engagement with mortality.

In spite of Drummond’s awkwardness, Best Before Death ultimately forms itself into a serious film that argues for the unexpected power of the lunatic gesture. It’s also a rather beautiful one.

Oscar nominee Robbie Ryan, who shoots in Kolkata, and Young Offenders cameraman Patrick Jordan, in charge during the Lexington sequence, give the project a great sense of two different places.

An impressively odd diversion.

Opens on October 4th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist