The White Room
Posted by martinteller on December 29, 2014
There really ought to be a documentary about The KLF, one of the most fascinating chapters in music. The story of electronic duo Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty is too complicated to recap here, but it involves multiple aliases, sampling shenanigans and the resulting copyright struggles, scads of alternate versions and limited edition remixes, an obscure mythology that incorporates the Illuminatus and sheep, and engineering massive hits… and then cynically writing a book about how they did it. Then they took a scorched earth policy to their career by staging a confrontational performance at an awards show, announcing their retirement from the music business, deleting their entire back catalogue, and eventually even publicly incinerating the profits from KLF recordings. It’s a crazy story that combines huge mass market success with the anarchic, media-manipulating sensibility of an outfit like Negativland.
This short film doesn’t tell their story, but it is one more chapter in it. Never officially released, it’s a 48-minute movie directed by Bill Butt (yeah, that’s his name) in 1989. Songs heard throughout were later (although with The KLF and their complex history, it’s often difficult to establish a chronology) reworked into the album of the same name, including the hits “What Time Is Love?” and “3 A.M. Eternal”. Other bits in the movie can be heard in their seminal ambient album, Chill Out.
The film starts at Trancentral, the studio/flat where they recorded a lot of their material, with a dance party raging to “What Time Is Love?”. Drummond and Cauty leave the party, and step into their signature 1968 Ford Galaxie police car, modified with their logos. Their lawyer is in the back seat and there’s some unintelligible arguing and a contract is signed. They kick the lawyer out and then most of the film is just them driving around. Mostly in Spain, apparently. There’s not any plot and no dialogue, although eventually they end up stuck in a snow bank and climb a mountain to the “white room”, where the lawyer (or maybe someone else) is sitting with important papers of some sort, and as he points out some particular passage, it’s implied that this rockets the duo to stardom. I don’t know. But the whole thing does have a nice feel to it, if you like their music. The footage is actually quite well done and this looks like a professional long-form music video, except in the shape of a quasi-spiritual road movie. It’s not exactly interesting on its own, but taken in context of The KLF in general — and also hearing their music recontextualized in yet another way — it has a certain hypnotic fascination.
I can’t recommend this to anyone who isn’t really interested in The KLF. But I will say it’s not nearly as embarrassing as It Couldn’t Happen Here, the movie by contemporaries and mutual admirers Pet Shop Boys, which is so drenched in pretension that I don’t mind using the word “pretension” to describe it. If nothing else, this at least makes for some pleasant background imagery. Rating: Fair (69)