Fantastic Fest 2021 Review: WHO KILLED THE KLF?

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

If one comes to this documentary looking for all of the answers, well, that is not what you’re going to get. But, that is a testament to how enigmatic a musical “group” The KLF was and remains to this day. To the director’s credit, Who Killed The KLF? does offer as complete of a glimpse into the creative minds of leaders Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty as is possible. Fans of the electronic phenomenon that rocked the airwaves during the early ’90s are sure to enjoy this insightful film, as are casual fans and the uninitiated, as this movie provides a rather fascinating look at musical artists who aimed to perplex and challenge the world of music and the consumers craving something different.

Using audio recordings of Drummond and Cauty, along with video footage and animated recreations, director Chris Atkins tells the story of The KLF, a British electronic musical group that made an indellible impact on pop culture in 1991 with their album “The White Room.” But their story goes a few years back to their formation in 1987. From their formation of The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, Drummond and Cauty hoped to take the world by storm and, through their music, aimed to initiate chaos and confusion in the music business. Fueled by their punk rock roots, the two challenged the conventions of Britain and music with their brand of electronic music and bizarre propaganda. Though the group would eventually achieve popular success, this was not at all their goal, and thusly, The KLF would fall apart as a musical force because their eccentric and utterly wild approach to their art could only take them so far.

I was 18 years-old and starting college when I first heard The KLF. Being mostly a rock enthusiast, I just wasn’t that into the electronic music at the time. However, my dorm roommate and his friends from high school introduced me to The KLF and their enthusiasm for their hit single “3 a.m. Eternal” definitely aroused my interest. That song and the version of “Justified and Ancient” which features country singer Tammy Wynette became a part of the soundrack of my life at the time. This is what drew me to the film at the festival, and I am thrilled that I was able to learn more about these intriguing musical artists.

Chris Atkins takes on the challenge of telling the story of The KLF and succeeds mostly winningly with his documentary. Given the enigmatic and idiosyncratic natures of the group’s founders, Atkins does exceptionally in offering some answers about what drove these artists to do what they did, but cannot offer all of the answers. Nevertheless, the film competently gives its audiences a portrait of musical artists for the fans seeking some answers and closure. As for anyone not familiar with the group, or those, like myself, who are casual fans, Who Killed The KLF? is still an interesting music doc that shows some of the motivations that drove such a bizarrely different musical duo to do what they did and how their impact and success got away from them.

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