I admit I purchased the blu-ray of 2023’s KLF film 23 Seconds to Eternity knowing little about the musical group except they were legendary pranksters of a sort. When intrigued me most about them is they once burned a million pounds of their money as a performance piece. Aside from that, all I know about them is they released some techno music that didn’t leave much of an impression on me, regardless of the names they released it under: The Timelords, The Justified Ancients of the Mu Mus (“The JAMs”) or The KLF.
Regardless of the name, they were only ever Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty. Their first hit was “Doctorin’ The Tardis”, putting the Doctor Who theme to an electronic beat, and incorporating chants of “Doctor WHO-OOO” in the manner of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2”. The result is probably the most entertaining of their endeavors and it is well served by the accompanying video, wherein an American police cruiser pursues charmingly goofy homemade Daleks. There’s even a shot where you can see under one of the Daleks, the feet of the actor inside clearly visible as he scootches it along.
That video is the first item in this alleged movie. I use that qualifier because this is absolutely not a film. It is basically the collected visual works of the duo, all but two of which are music videos. Aside from a sentence or two of text on the screen between the films, there is no additional information. For any context, one is required to read the accompanying booklet or watch the special features on the disc.
While I was amused by the “Doctorin’ The Tardis” video, the nadir of the picture occurs immediately after. The White Room is a road movie, only in that there are two guys in a car and we see them driving…a lot. Although the soundtrack is little more than one song after another, I wouldn’t even describe this as a long-form music video.
And, yet, “long” is the operative word here. At roughly 50 minutes in length, it feels like this takes longer to watch than it did to film. And the filming must have been extensive and expensive. The car from the previous video (which the booklet informs me was dubbed “Ford Timelord”) goes through London streets at night, through deserts in the daylight and even into an area deep in snow. But, without a destination, it doesn’t actually go anywhere. Two-Lane Blacktop feels heavily plotted in comparison, and even had a more satisfying resolution.
Even having said that, I will concede the footage is often beautiful. But this suffers from the same problem that anybody’s vacation videos has: these are inherently of the most interest only to those who made them and likely will have little appeal to others. It’s like the filmmakers here were so in love with the images that they couldn’t bring themselves to cut anything. And, without a plot, there isn’t a yardstick by which one can judge what is essential or not. Maybe it is all necessary, but it just as easily might be all filler. All I know is the last time I was so bored watching beautiful imagery was when viewing something by Antonioni. And this ain’t Antonioni…
As if adding insult to injury, the next piece is a music video where the footage from the unreleased The White Room finally found a home. Really, they could have just put the longer piece on the disc as bonus content and just left the video in the program. Even then, it is amazing how tedious the footage is even when condensed to only about five minutes.
Next up is my second-most favorite part, which is a trilogy of videos they did as a combination of stage performance and some rather endearing landscape miniatures. I especially liked the model Ford Timelord we see from behind as it flies through a miniature futuristic city. Really, I don’t have more to say about these three thematically-linked videos. The songs didn’t really click with me, the stage performance seems appropriately bombastic and the miniatures were cute. I don’t have any notes.
So then they just had to thoroughly deep six any goodwill they earned with me. We now get to another long-form music video, The Rites of Mu. We know we’re in deep trouble right from the opening credits; namely, we’re watching a music video with opening credits. One of those credits says “Narration by Martin Sheen”. My first thought was, “Martin Sheen, really?”, when I have should have been wondering why a music video has narration. Then there was an attribution for the people who created the film’s wicker man. I was waiting for a credit for “moose trained to mix concrete and sign complicated insurance forms by…”
The production is a curious mix of crappy amateur filmmaking interspersed with moments of truly top-notch photography. Seriously, some isolated moments of this are truly gorgeous. Unfortunately, like The White Room, it was so much effort for so little return. It is stylized like folk horror, which had me intrigued. My hopes gradually diminished to nothing as interminable takes lead up to nothing more than the wicker man supposedly combusting from the combined concentration of the gathered robed figures. And this takes…way…too…long…to…play…out.
Speaking of which, let’s speed things up here. Let’s see…there’s a music video where they block off a road and Drummond barks the names of northern locales into a CB handset. Huh. They do a video with Tammy Wynette, and I was surprised to see how game she was for that. There’s a very cinematic video where they use Pinewood’s largest studio to show them sailing a full-sized Viking boat, ostensibly to conquer America (spoiler alert, they failed to conquer the charts in the colonies).
The collection ends fittingly, but in a clip that still takes too damn long to play out. In what appears to be a demolition derby, Drummond and Cauty destroy Ford Timelord. Congratulations on killing the thing that has the most personality of any element or individual from your assorted films.
The final statement on the screen before the end credits roll is “The KLF have left the entertainment industry.” That would suggest they had been entertainers at some point, which I find highly debatable.
I’m not sure what the “23 seconds” of the title pertains to, but watching this felt a lot closer to eternity. This was an interminable, miserable experience, with very few bright points along the way. Couldn’t we at least seen them torch that million pounds? My net worth is nowhere near that. By duping people like me into buying this disc, do they think I also have money to burn?
Dir: Bill Butt
Starring Bill Dummond, Jimmy Cauty, Tammy Wynette
Watched on BFI blu-ray (region-free)