JDIFF Review – Deconstructing Dad: The Music, Machines and Mystery of Raymond Scott

After his father died, filmmaker Stanley Warnow decided to find out more about the man he’d often seen on TV but never really got to know, a man who was a band leader in the 50s, whose music ended up scoring Warner Brothers cartoons, a man whose technological advance influenced music production; Raymond Scott.

Deconstructing Dad is an interesting concept for a film, Warnow knew his father as the band leader on TV, and was allowed to stay up late as a child to watch him perform, but never got to know the man himself, due to his father’s hectic career and the fact that his parents split up when he was young. It is a curious twist to have a filmmaker find out more about a family member with the intention of sharing it with the world, but this personal journey often feels a little too personal.

Raymond Scott was a prolific musician whose work began with the CBS Radio House Band, before he formed the Raymond Scott Quintette and went on to have numerous big hits in the 1930s. Scott was known for his work in swing music, but was also an early electronic musician and pioneer, in fact, as Warnow went through his father’s things after he died, he found an unsent letter – to unknown recipients – claiming the invention of the sequencer. As well as this, the notoriously secretive inventor created a machine he called the Electronium, which is now owned by composer Mark Mothersbaugh.

All of this is well and good, and it is great to see such a prolific composer and artist rediscovered, but by placing himself at the centre of the story, the quest to find out more about the father he never knew, Stanley Warnow manages to twist the story, making it more about him than Raymond Scott. The film needed to be more balanced in order to give a full understanding of why Warnow decided to seek out more about his father. As it stands, Deconstructing Dad is a curious documentary, filled with interviews from Scott’s contemporaries and admirers, that is completely changed by the fact that Warnow narrates the film from the eyes of an estranged son.

Deconstructing Dad is a film in which an estranged son tries to understand a famous father. There is plenty of interesting material in the film, but perhaps a more impartial filmmaker could have told Raymond Scott’s story more fully, without Warnow’s constant search to discover whether his father loved him or not. An interesting concept that is a little too personal to be properly balanced.

Rating: 3/5

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