Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Deconstructing Dad - The Music, Machines and Mystery of Raymond Scott

Yet another documentary about a supposedly unheralded show-business maverick just barely holds viewer interest.

July 12, 2012

-By Eric Monder


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1354888-Deconstructing_Dad_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

How many warts-and-all portraits of creative “geniuses” have already been made (in which, of course, the genius excuses the warts and the all)? How many more must we endure? Deconstructing Dad—The Music, Machines and Mystery of Raymond Scott isn’t any better or worse than the others, just more of the same. If Scott was as great as all that, the film fails in trying to make its case.

Who was Raymond Scott (actually born Harry Warnow in 1908)? Never mind all the biographical details presented throughout Deconstructing Dad by director-writer-cinematographer-editor Stan Warnow, Scott’s worshipful son. You’ve seen and heard these particulars all before. Just fill in the blanks about the guy who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, focused on his art at the expense of his personal life, alienated some people, including family members, but created so many memorable and lasting works, it didn’t really matter then and certainly doesn’t matter now.

Talking heads abound, so many testimonials, mostly from people you’ve never heard of—e.g., Jeff Winner, Gert-Jan Blom, Irwin Chusid, Herb Deutsch; just trust Warnow that these are experts in the field. But Warnow scores a coup now and then with such recognizable ‘big names” as the fabulously mainstream John (Star Wars) Williams and the reputedly offbeat Mark Mothersbaugh (never mind the fact the once-hip Devo leader has been making movie soundtrack rock schlock for years—Rugrats I and II, anyone?). Not one of these talkative heads says anything negative about Raymond Scott—he was the first this, he was the best that—despite the fact that absolutely nothing you hear musically sounds “ahead of his time.”

In fact, Scott’s big-band work, animation orchestrations (Bugs Bunny for Warner Bros.), compositions for TV (“Lucky Strikes” commercials) and Broadway (Lute Song with Mary Martin) sound very much of their time. To wit, Scott’s invention of a pre-synthesizer machine is praised to the skies but actually postdates (by many years) the similar-sounding and more interesting Theremin (oh, yes, by the way, the documentary about Theremin, the inventor, predates this film). To be sure, there are legitimate plusses: Scott insisted on having a racially integrated band when he worked at Warner Bros., yet one must wonder what he was thinking when composing the music for “War Dance for Wooden Indians” (1941), an animated film produced around the same time, not to mention some racially charged Warner cartoons.

The only really “edgy” stuff comes from family members who admit that Scott was a distant husband and father. But by tiptoeing around his most transgressive act—philandering with a 12-year-old band-singer protégé—even these observations get tiresome after a while. (Imagine what Nick Broomfield would have done with that story.) Thanks to the occasionally cranky personal bits, one cannot call Deconstructing Dad hagiographic—but where is the deconstruction? We’re still waiting, Daddy-O.


Film Review: Deconstructing Dad - The Music, Machines and Mystery of Raymond Scott

Yet another documentary about a supposedly unheralded show-business maverick just barely holds viewer interest.

July 12, 2012

-By Eric Monder


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1354888-Deconstructing_Dad_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

How many warts-and-all portraits of creative “geniuses” have already been made (in which, of course, the genius excuses the warts and the all)? How many more must we endure? Deconstructing Dad—The Music, Machines and Mystery of Raymond Scott isn’t any better or worse than the others, just more of the same. If Scott was as great as all that, the film fails in trying to make its case.

Who was Raymond Scott (actually born Harry Warnow in 1908)? Never mind all the biographical details presented throughout Deconstructing Dad by director-writer-cinematographer-editor Stan Warnow, Scott’s worshipful son. You’ve seen and heard these particulars all before. Just fill in the blanks about the guy who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, focused on his art at the expense of his personal life, alienated some people, including family members, but created so many memorable and lasting works, it didn’t really matter then and certainly doesn’t matter now.

Talking heads abound, so many testimonials, mostly from people you’ve never heard of—e.g., Jeff Winner, Gert-Jan Blom, Irwin Chusid, Herb Deutsch; just trust Warnow that these are experts in the field. But Warnow scores a coup now and then with such recognizable ‘big names” as the fabulously mainstream John (Star Wars) Williams and the reputedly offbeat Mark Mothersbaugh (never mind the fact the once-hip Devo leader has been making movie soundtrack rock schlock for years—Rugrats I and II, anyone?). Not one of these talkative heads says anything negative about Raymond Scott—he was the first this, he was the best that—despite the fact that absolutely nothing you hear musically sounds “ahead of his time.”

In fact, Scott’s big-band work, animation orchestrations (Bugs Bunny for Warner Bros.), compositions for TV (“Lucky Strikes” commercials) and Broadway (Lute Song with Mary Martin) sound very much of their time. To wit, Scott’s invention of a pre-synthesizer machine is praised to the skies but actually postdates (by many years) the similar-sounding and more interesting Theremin (oh, yes, by the way, the documentary about Theremin, the inventor, predates this film). To be sure, there are legitimate plusses: Scott insisted on having a racially integrated band when he worked at Warner Bros., yet one must wonder what he was thinking when composing the music for “War Dance for Wooden Indians” (1941), an animated film produced around the same time, not to mention some racially charged Warner cartoons.

The only really “edgy” stuff comes from family members who admit that Scott was a distant husband and father. But by tiptoeing around his most transgressive act—philandering with a 12-year-old band-singer protégé—even these observations get tiresome after a while. (Imagine what Nick Broomfield would have done with that story.) Thanks to the occasionally cranky personal bits, one cannot call Deconstructing Dad hagiographic—but where is the deconstruction? We’re still waiting, Daddy-O.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Film Review: Magical Universe

Your interest in and tolerance of this film will largely depend on how much you can see Barbie the Doll as Barbie the Muse. More »

Film Review: All You Need Is Love

The emptily generic title gives it away: This doc is undeniably well-intentioned but basically clueless. More »

Film Review: The  ABCs of Death 2

Twenty-six short horror films by 26 different directors equals 26 ways to be disappointed. More »

Film Review: Point and Shoot

Failing to substantially plumb the larger nonfiction questions it raises, this fascinating if flawed documentary recounts the story of an American who chose to fight in the 2011 Libyan revolution. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

John Wick
Film Review: John Wick

Retired hit man seeks revenge on Russian mob in an above-average action film. More »

Fury Review
Film Review: Fury

American tanks fight superior German forces in the closing days of World War II. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here