I originally reviewed Best Before Death back in October 2019, which seems like several lifetimes ago. Paul Duane’s film about iconoclast Bill Drummond was a favourite of mine, and had a short day-and date cinema release, but will reach its widest audience through this blu-ray release on the Anti-Worlds label, and with a wealth of extras, I’m revising my original review to take into account the bountiful new evidence provided here.
Anyone who has been following the continuing adventures of Bill Drummond will keenly anticipate Best Before Death, Paul Duane’s 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 Duane’s film, a co-production between Rook Films, Media Ranch and the Scottish Documentary Institute, doesn’t let his ideas down.
The film-makers share space with the artist on two legs of an on-going 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, even if that moment front-loads the film’s trailer, but it’s 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 around himself, 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 its 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.
So any new information about Drummond is an event, and this disc is accompanied by an essay by Drummond which details his lockdown position, via text messages and the tease of a script of an unmade, or, as he puts it, imaginary film. The disc has an audio commentary, plus a forty-minute interview between Drummond and the director. There’s also three short films, one of which sees Drummond recount the childhood catching of a fish which provokes a musing on the nature of religion, while another sees Drummond try on a fetching red wig for 23 seconds. There’s also a whopping selection of deleted scenes and B roll, which end up longer than the feature they’re accompanying. It’s up to the viewer to decide how essential they are, but given that I reviewed the original feature at five stars, this blu-ray release offers followers like myself a welcome chance to reflect on Drummond’s project outside of the constraints of a specific feature-length running time.
Best Before Death is out now on Blu-ray on the Anti-Worlds label.
Thanks to Zoe Flower and Anti-Worlds for access to this blu-ray title.