Best Before Death 2019 *****

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Anyone who has been following the continuing adventures of Bill Drummond will keenly anticipate Best Before Death, a new documentary which finds the artist, retiring pop star, art terrorist and general free thinker in fine fettle. The standard-issue information on Drummond is that he was a driving force in the KLF, with a slew of number one singles and a notoriety gained by burning a million pounds as a performance art event. Since that event, which Drummond says he now regrets, he’s ploughed a fascinating furrow as a creative force, but not a creative force interested in making work for New York art dealers to sell ; he’s not seeking validation from the elite. In short, Drummond is an ideal subject for a documentary, and Paul Duane’s film, a co-production between Rook Films, Media Ranch and the Scottish Documentary Institute, doesn’t let him down.

The film-makers share space with the artist on two legs of an ongoing global event, the 25 Paintings world tour which is scheduled to take Drummond to various locations from 2014 to 2025. We catch up with him circa 2016 in Kolkata, India and Lexington, North Carolina where he busies himself with tasks; getting a haircut, making soup, building a bed, banging a drum as he crosses a bridge, shining shoes. The public encountered are bemused, but also interested; part of the appeal of what Drummond is doing is not only what these actions might mean to him, but what they might mean to those who happen upon his art by chance. Some are happy to accept his simple gift of a cake; others, notably a driver, can’t get over Drummond’s previous pop career, and eagerly ask if he’s ever worked with Will Smith. It’s clear Drummond is unimpressed with such questioning, but also to his credit that such awkward moments are left in the film to created a rounded picture of what he does.

There’s an element of penance about the behaviour captured here. I interviewed Drummond for a national newspaper a few years back, and he offered to visit readers in their houses and make soup for them; he’s not building walls of mystique but breaking them, although he also voices fears about what that deconstruction might bring. He alludes to personal reasons for his actions; ‘addressing my relationship with women’ is how he terms it, and there’s mention of seven children with four partners.

But such clues are not prescriptive; there’s any number of potential meanings for Drummond’s actions, and Best Before Death is more than the sum of it’s parts. If you question what Drummond is doing, and why, you might as well question your own daily activities and ask if they have more or less meaning. Drummond is a teacher of sorts, a man who leads by example, but doesn’t attempt to be a role model. He pays attention to the signs he sees as he visits a shopping centre café, he experiments with life by listening to music in alphabetical order. Drummond is a fascinating figure, and spending 100 minutes in his company is a refreshing, revitalising experience that’s essential viewing for those familiar with his explorations of spaceship earth, and an ideal introduction to his wonderful world and how he sees it.

Bill Drummond will be touring the UK with Best Before Death, and performing a play, White Saviour Complex, with Tam Dean Burn, alongside each screening.

2019 SCREENING TOUR DATES (UK)

MONDAY 23rd SEPT LONDON, PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL
TUESDAY 24th SEPT OXFORD, PHOENIX
WEDNESDAY 25th SEPT FACT LIVERPOOL
THURSDAY 26th SEPT HYDE PARK PICTUREHOUSE, LEEDS
FRIDAY 27th SEPT DUBLIN, IRISH FILM INSTITUTE
SATURDAY 28th SEPT BELFAST, QFT
MONDAY 30th SEPT BRIGHTON, DUKE OF YORKS
TUESDAY 1st OCT HACKNEY PICTUREHOUSE
WEDNESDAY 2nd OCT CAMBRIDGE, ARTS PICTUREHOUSE
THURSDAY 3rd OCT NORWICH, CINEMA CITY
FRIDAY 4th OCT YORK, CITY SCREEN
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