SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Delia Derbyshire, for those unfamiliar, is considered the unsung hero of British electronic music. While working at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the formidable musician helped create the Doctor Who theme. After she died in 2001, 267 tapes of unreleased compositions were found in her attic. Filmmaker Caroline Catz employed Cosey Fanni Tutti to sample and manipulate the raw music into the score for the documentary Delia Derbyshire: The Myths And The Legendary Tapes.
The film seemingly starts as a highly stylized look at the famed, though underappreciated mathematician turned pioneering electronic musician. Utilizing recorded interviews and writings of hers, the director shows images of desolate underpasses, recording equipment, footage of gears spinning, as well as video and pictures from Derbyshire’s life to put the audience directly into her headspace. Of course, Catz interviews contemporaries of Derbyshire’s such as Cath Foxon, Brian Hodgson, Madelon Hooykaas, David Vorhaus, and Peter Zinovieff. There’s a lot of insight and interesting stories to be found there, especially as interviews Derbyshire did at the time are used directly.
“…a highly stylized look at the famed, though underappreciated mathematician turned pioneering electronic musician.”
But, at some 20 or 30 minutes in, Delia Derbyshire: The Myths And The Legendary Tapes drastically changes its presentation format. Catz appears on screen as Derbyshire, and a biographical narrative takes hold. It starts with her determination to get a position at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. It goes from there to explore her interpersonal relationships with her colleagues and several of her career highs from Derbyshire’s time there (yes, this is where Doctor Who shows up). These traditional biographical scenes are intercut with the stylish, avant-garde documentary that the movie started as.
This transition is somewhat abrupt, as there’s no build-up to this new style. As such, adjusting from documentary to proper narrative takes time, and it does pull the viewer out of the experience for a period. But, once settled into the groove of the film’s structure, viewers cannot help but be enthralled by the audaciousness of what the director is aiming to achieve. Catz has crafted a production that is as singularly unique as Derbyshire and her awe-inspiring music. The filmmaker is doing the same kind of experimental music creation the subject did by mixing genres and expectations, only for cinema.
"…maybe you'll love it; perhaps you'll hate it. Either way, rest assured, you'll have never seen anything like it before."