EARLY on in Best Before Death, its subject, Scottish artist and musician Bill Drummond, explains his mistrust of the documentary process. Filmmakers always have a different agenda to the subject being profiled, he complains, and over the course of the film we see him questioning and resisting director Paul Duane’s efforts to get him to explain or contextualise his artistic life and career while pursuing his current project: a 12-year-world tour in which he travels to different cities that are meaningful to him (Kolkata in India and Lexington in the US) and embeds himself in the local community by performing a series of mundane-seeming tasks over the course of a few weeks. For an artist who has, ironically, become best know for his radical attempts to erase his work from the cultural landscape (most notably the back catalogue of the KLF), or make work that only exists in the moment it’s made (like burning a million quid or his choir project The17), Drummond’s playfully uncooperative approach feels like his own way of wresting control of the film away from Duane. By attempting to make it as unilluminating as possible he is, in effect, also making it part of his own radical artistic process. And yet Duane clearly knows that this in itself illuminates something interesting about Drummond and the playful push and pull that ensues, as Drummond repeatedly deconstructs the film while it’s being made, makes for a far more interesting and entertaining portrait of an inscrutable artist than the usual documentary primers we tend to get.
Best Before Death **** | Scheme Birds *** Edinburgh International Film Festival
It’s hard to know what to make of Swedish documentary makers Ellen Fisk and Elinor Hallin’s intent in making the Motherwell-set Scheme Birds. They provide a view of contemporary Scotland so brutal it’s almost too difficult to watch and yet they also seem to be on the side of their main subject, Gemma, a Motherwell teen who seems happy about embracing the “knocked up or locked up” destiny that’s been drummed into the kids who live on her estate. Shooting her surroundings with a visual poetry that may occasionally slip into ruin porn cliché yet also goes some way to helping us see why she has no desire to leave (at least not initially), the film challenges us to put aside our own prejudices and be just as empathetic towards the no-nonsense Gemma and her friends. That’s a big ask, especially when these kids (and they are kids) start having kids of their own and the filmmakers depict them sentimentalising motherhood while chain-smoking through pregnancy and defending their Buckfast-and-drug-guzzling boyfriends. A horrific act of violence perpetrated against one of their friends (by one of their friends) is the only thing that seems to get through to them and we see Gemma starting to make changes in her life to give herself and her baby son on a better chance. But for how long? A cutesy final image of her cooing over her toddler as she films him learning to box disconcertingly brings to mind the ending of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.