There are many great music documentaries out there, focusing on the highs and lows of the most famous artists in the world, from Freddie Mercury to Amy Winehouse. On the other hand, very few documentaries have been done about those lost bands and artists that have been forgotten by history. There aren’t many of those because the need for attention is always on the mind of most artists and makes them constantly be in the spotlight for better or worse. Thus, Who Killed the KLF? makes itself unique by making this forgotten band the object of its study, and also because it was the band itself who slept from the spotlight into the shadows.
The documentary is directed by Chris Atkins and tells the story of the KLF from its origins to its fall from grace and everywhere in between. The film makes use of audio tapes with the voices of the band members: Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty as a way to tell the story and focuses very little on the classic interview format that most documentaries have us used to.
Creating a documentary from bits and pieces that don’t really hold in a coherent narrative is a very difficult task. So, what Atkins and his team did here is quite an accomplishment. By the end of the film, you will have experienced a magnificent tale of love, ego, and the need to create. And all this is accomplished in a very clear and concise way. The form of the film is very standard fare, but its content and the way it was made is what make it a great document.
Who Killed the KLF? has a lot in common with Searching for Sugar Man, as they talk about artists that have been so long out of the industry that they feel more like a myth than actual reality. Even then, at one point, The KLF was at the top of every chart and on the top of the pop music industry. There are many generations that have never listened to them at all. The band’s music hasn’t been freely available for decades, and the band itself decided to delete everything from their catalog. It’s only now with the release of the film that old fans and newcomers will be able to look and find the band’s music on the most popular music streaming sites.
As we said before, it is the content of the film that really will catch the attention of the viewer. There’s a bit of everything. The first act is mostly focused on music history and sets up the historical context in which the band was formed, and the reasons why it was formed. Then it also dwells on some even crazier topics that you would not imagine you could find in a music documentary. We’re talking about crop circles and how the guys in the band were involved in the phenomenon. We even dwell on the famous Illuminati trilogy and how the books influenced the band’s music and persona when on stage. It’s all pretty fascinating, and it easily paints the picture of a band that was always going beyond the music. As the legendary Alan Moore says in the film, “Everything was about confrontation, everything was a challenge.”
The characters of Drummond and Cauty are very fascinating in and of themselves. Every time they appear on the screen, you can see that these were guys who had a vision in mind, and even when things got darker than they should, it was always their passion to make a statement that was pushing them every step of the way.
If the documentary has a hurdle that might be hard to overcome, it is that the name of the band has been lost into the archives of time, and it might have a hard time catching the attention of a new audience. There are hundreds of thousands of fans that are still listening to the band nowadays, and that’s more than an accomplishment. And it might be that the film was made with only those people in mind, but even with its solid premise, direction, and fascinating line of content, the film might lose people’s interest rather fast. Especially towards the end, when it goes into the darker aspects of the story and into the members’ minds.
As the documentary tries to explore and develop the most internal aspects of the band’s life; Atkins relies maybe too many times on accounts from a third party, which makes some of the statements a bit ambiguous in their factuality. But it is an understandable compromise when the band itself isn’t there to make declarations on truth or fallacy. Either way, it’s very entertaining. For those who find these kinds of stories fascinating.
Who Killed the KLF? is a very solid documentary that opens the door to a side of the music industry that might have been lost for a while, but that needs to come back to the front of it. Not only to take its rightful place, as the story of pioneers, but also to inspire others to be bold, daring, and make things exactly as you want them to be. Because, as the KLF teaches us, even when finding regrets on the road, being yourself is the only way to find true happiness.