Film Review: Best Before Death

Conjuring the Magic in the Moment

As I am wont to do, I’ll start these review murmurings by recommending something else prior to HIGHLY recommending the latest documentary by Paul Duane ‘Best Before Death’ (2019).

The subject of the film is none other than one Bill Drummond, who most will probably not know him by his name, but might under one of the multiple creative music endeavours (most notably The KLF) he has helmed with partner Jimmy Cauty, as they de-constructed the music and art/entertainment world from the late 1980s and early 1990s, then de-constructed it again, and again.

Best Before Death

They supposedly went into self-imposed hiatus for decades, though were still very active in many creative pursuits, with Drummond focusing on art, literature, publishing and events.

The book that I recommend before seeing ‘Best Before Death’ is the superbly entertaining, fascinating and funny as hell ‘The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds’ by John Higgs, that somewhat Matrixesque willfully deep dives into the parallel universe that the partnership inhabits. It is a stunning, giggly chaos, embracing the natural madness that surrounds us in life, and the constructs we build to deal with it. Team Drummond/Caulty are the demolition team that with skill, feral joy, hyper intelligence and a glint in their eyes will make you question EVERYTHING (think Socrates in Atmos Sound, whilst flying on MDMA), and leave you spinning, which you should probably just continue and turn it into freestyle dancing. Suffice to say, you will probably be more confused after the book, but somehow wiser, certainly freer.

Best Before Death

It’s not a necessity to read the book, but it will certainly enable to ‘understand’ Drummond a wee bit more whilst watching the film. Just like the book, you will probably know less than you did before starting, yet again, you are wiser, and certainly smiling more.

The often hilarious doc follows Drummond who has embarked on a world tour that started in 2014. An artistic, creative performance that traverses the globe called ‘The 25 Paintings’  based on previous works he has created/painted/published. The 25 Paintings had various phrases or statements on them, such as ‘MAN MAKING BED’, ‘BANG DRUM’ or ‘BAKE CAKE’ to name but a few. These comments have become the driving force behind the tour where he treats them like a reminder list of activities to do when he lands in a predefined town or city, that also has some personal foundation in his life so far, ie he is returning to a memory.

The film covers the first two year long pit stops on the tour, namely Kolkata (West Bengal, India), and Lexington (North Carolina, USA), where Bill like Frankenstein brings one of the paintings to life by entering the towns banging his drum, as if a bizarre Pied Piper guiding in a whole parade of ideas, joys, a beautiful human moments.

As with the book, there is huge mirth to be had at the wanton dismissal of any attempt at explaining what he is doing. Local residents are apparently gleefully coerced by the crew to try and get explanations, but nothing solid is forthcoming, and that is the whole point. We are all at such pains to catagorise and define everything, that we are all losing the fleeting moments of just being.

The acts are effectively catalysts for a myriad of things, in particular, conversations with locals, who instantly gather round to see this seemingly nutty Scottish man doing things for no apparent reason. Though he stays in each country for a year replicating the list, and the pieces are mostly transient, these actions are legends building as all the neighbours will no doubt speak of this funny foreigner who wandered into town one day banging his drum, making cakes, a bed (and raffle it off), seemingly replicating a Nick Kamen Levis ad (that none of the locals will have seen) and encouraged knitting circles, all to the wonderfully bemused local faces.
The beautiful thing happens when you take the focus of Drummond, and look at the effect of his actions spreading out like rings in a pond. The adults are intrigued (or initially suspicious as in the US), the ever questioning kids inspired. Though he might get frustrated at some questions, he is with a giddy joy effectively teaching a huge amount of people to see a completely different way of thinking, and if that isn’t true art, I don’t know what is.
Though the film is at its focus about Bill and his tour, the film says far much more about us, our views, our conditioning, our bias, and ultimately our self-destructive move away from the very sense of play, that is inherent to survival. There was a Grand Tour tradition in the 17th-18th century where wealthy upper class European young men would travel the world for months or years to supposedly absorb culture, Bill is to a greater extent taking that and aptly flipping it. Rather that one individual learning about the many, one is encouraging us all to learn about ourselves and laugh a great deal along the way.

‘Best Before Death’ is out now. Bill Drummond will be hosting various screenings around the UK in September/October, information and tickets are available here

Steve Clarke

Born in Celtic lands, nurtured in art college, trained by the BBC, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson and released onto the battlefront of all things interesting/inspiring/good vibes... people, movies, music, clubbing, revolution, gigs, festivals, books, art, theatre, painting and trying to find letters on keyboards in the name of flushthefashion. Making sure it's not quite on the western front... and beyond.