Best Before Death
Best Before Death

Best Before Death Review

Vicky Pea takes a look at the new documentary Best Before Death by Paul Duane.

By Vicky Pea
Thu 26 September, 2019

“Best Before Death is a film by the Irish film maker Paul Duane.
Best Before Death is a feature length documentary film.
Best Before Death is a film about the Scottish artist Bill Drummond.
Best Before Death was shot in Kolkata, India and Lexington, North Carolina.
Best Before Death was shot by the Oscar nominated cinematographer Robbie Ryan.

Bill Drummond is on a twelve-year world tour.
On this tour he works in a different city, in a different country, in each of those years.
The tour began under Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham, England in 2014.
The tour ends in at the Eastern Gate of Damascus, Syria in 2026.
In 2016 the tour reached the Temple of Kali in Kolkata, India.
In 2018 the tour reached the steps of the courthouse in Lexington, North Carolina.”

from Penkiln Burn

As the above states Best Before Death is a documentary by Paul Duane that follows artist Bill Drummond for 2 of the 12 stops that make up his The 25 Paintings world tour.

The documentary is currently accompanied on a limited screening tour by White Saviour Complex, a play by Bill Drummond that book-ends the screening with the help from actor Tam Dean Burn who plays Bill, or at least plays and actor playing Bill as well as occasionally playing himself.

Going in I was sceptical. The reasons for this are well summarised by Drummond himself at the start of the film. The act of documenting can in itself impact the process, a kind of observer effect. Bill admits in previously staged play that the film makes it seem as though everything he is doing is being done just to be photographed and he’s done with the idea of documenting his tour through a photographic medium.

There is also the potential of demystifying things. Many documentaries are produced with the ultimate aim of educating their audiences to gain a better understanding of the topic at hand. If there’s one thing I absolutely do not want from this documentary it is a clear understanding, or even vague understanding, of anything Bill Drummond does.

Relive Welcome To The Dark Ages with the KLF Khronicals

Thankfully it becomes apparent that if Bill has any understanding of what he’s actually doing he’s either very talented at acting otherwise or extremely dedicated to keeping it to himself. We gain small insights here and there, such as why Kolkata and Lexington are part of his world tour (he has personal history with both) but there is no big reveal or light-bulb moment where suddenly “ah ha” we get it and everyone gasps in awe at his creative genius of his master plan. That’s not to say there aren’t light-bulb moments of a different kind.

As we journey with Bill and collaborator/photographer Tracey Moberly, who by the end almost turn into a sort of double act through their often unintentionally humorous interactions, we’re gifted with a number of memorable moments and characters, many of which contribute to the film being actually very funny.

From Bill’s Lexington Cake Circle accomplice attempting to get some KLF era details from him (who can blame them for trying), the now famous Spaghetti Junction photo shoot pictured above, scenes of Bill mostly unsuccessfully trying to explain, or rather unexplain, what he’s doing to artists and residents of Kalkua, the humour swings from the genuinely heartfelt belly laugh to the awkward and borderline cringe inducing smirk.

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On the more subtle side are the sombre moments of which I imagine contribute to Bill’s White Saviour Complex assessment. A scene where he realises offering to polish shoes on an Indian track side may not have been a good idea, seeing as a pair of shoes are few and far between, it starts to feel a little wrong. In Lexington much of what Drummond does is met with even more suspicion than you’d expect. A white dude trying to give a cake away comes close to taking on a whole social commentary of its own and a man building a bed attracts attention from people actually needing a bed,“All I have is a futon” one passer by comments as she enters the raffle to win the bed. Wisely it does not dwell on these aspects.

What eventually seeps out of the documentary before it becomes an unignorable presence is the people and the effect that having Bill Drummond in their community for two weeks has. Occasionally we get close to seeing someone start to change the way they think about it all, almost everyone he comes across has an interest and desire to figure it all out. By the end a group of Lexington residents are gathered enjoying soup when a local musician attempts to understand how what Bill is doing “makes him feel“. “I don’t understand how I feel about it” he says. “Do you have to understand?Bill replies. “No“. The teenager offers Bill compliments and well wishes to which he dismisses in typical fashion. The boy is baffled but keeps up his attempts to change his perspective. You can almost see the cogs turning and the brick walls he’s hitting.

That’s what I walk away with. To me Best Before Death is a film about how a man making a bed, baking a cake, shining shoes, banging a drum, making soup, climbing a tree and so on makes people feel. For a few days these communities are lifted out of the everyday humdrum of their seemingly mundane lives where something as simple as a sponge cake can spark an insatiable curiosity that for now retains its mystery.

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You can see Best Before Death screened with a performance of White Saviour Complex on the following dates:

Thursday 26th September
Leeds – Hyde Park Picturehouse

Friday 27th September
Dublin – The Irish Film Institute

Saturday 28th September
Belfast – Queen’s Film Theatre

Monday 30th September 6:00pm
Brighton – Duke of York’s Picturehouse

Tuesday 1st October  8:30pm
London– Hackney Picturehouse

Wednesday 2nd October 6:00pm
Cambridge – Arts Picturehouse

Thursday 3rd October 6:15pm
Norwich – Cinema City Picturehouse

Friday 4th October 6:00pm
York – City Screen Picturehouse

“WHITE SAVIOUR COMPLEX is also a book about the play of the same name.
This book is hard back.
This book has been printed in an edition of one thousand.
This book will cost a tenner a go – cash.
This book will only be available directly from the hands of Bill Drummond who  will be selling this book directly after each of the performance of the play.
This book will be sold on the steps of the cinema or from a convenient bus shelter.
There will be no second edition of this book.”

From Penkiln Burn

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Photo credit Best Before Death & Tracey Moberly

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