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FILM REVIEW: Best Before Death

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Director: Paul Duane

Bill Drummond is a Scottish artist and former musician (a member of the successful pop group The KLF) who, on reaching the age of 60, decided to visit 12 cities in 12 different countries, one in each of the following 12 years. His plan includes the assumption that, at the age of 72, he will emulate his grandfather and drop dead.

Paul Duane’s 90-minute documentary film, released on Blu-ray by Anti-Worlds, follows Drummond to two of those cities – Kolkata in India and Lexington in North Carolina. Both cities and all others chosen have some connection to the artist’s past. Once there, he arrives banging a drum loudly, he bakes cakes, cooks soup, constructs a wooden bed and works on a makeshift shoeshine stand. Unsurprisingly, the cakes and soup, which he gives away to locals, are popular in India and looked on with suspicion in the USA, while shoeshine is uncalled for in India and in demand in the USA.

Drummond has the look of a conservative British businessman on a trekking holiday. He is asked to explain the artistic significance of his work several times in both locations and he does so repeatedly, if somewhat bafflingly. For example, he professes: “the bed is not the art, it’s the life of the bed…” going on to explain that dreams that take place therein are art. Similarly, the cakes, soups and shiny shoes are not the art. His collaborator makes notes and takes photographs, but neither are they the art.

Drummond’s work comes across as introspective, vague  and intangible, but that is an aside, because this is not an assessment thereof, it is a review of Duane’s film, which falls between two stools. The film has no narration and can offer no objective perspective of its subject, but it also fails to work on a simpler level, as a travel documentary in the Michael Palin style. The characters that Drummond meets and the landscapes that he views are left as background features, generating very little interest.

Duane’s biggest enemy seems to be Drummond himself, who repeatedly suggests that the presence of a director and film crew is polluting his work and committing perhaps the biggest sin of all – documenting it. Insisting that art exists only in the moment, Drummond spurns all conventional forms. Eventually the artist warms to the idea of expressing himself through theatre plays and we see an under-rehearsed performance of a play staged in a room filled with pretentious culture vultures sipping white wine. As such, maybe art is less a dream than a nightmare.

Available here now on Blu-ray

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