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23 Seconds to Eternity
23 SECONDS TO ETERNITY is a compilation of the films made by Bill Butt for the audiovisual duo of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, variously known as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The Timelords and The KLF. Released in dual-format (Blu-ray and DVD) by the BFI, it is reviewed by Gary Couzens.

In the beginning there were two. Bill Drummond was well established in the music business, as a band manager (Echo and the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes), as a record-label boss (Zoo Records), as a musician, being the guitarist for Big in Japan, and as an A & R man for WEA. One of his signings in the latter capacity was a band called Brilliant, which was never commercially successful but remain notable for some of its members, including notable session bassist Guy Pratt and songwriting/production team Stock Aitken and Waterman. The guitarist was Jimmy Cauty.

In 1987, Drummond and Cauty joined forces, billing themselves as King Boy D and Rockman Rock respectively, and founded The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (The JAMs for short). The name was derived from Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy of novels, which had built up a cult following since their original publication in 1975. In fact, Drummond had been the set designer for Ken Campbell's stage adaptation, which premiered in Liverpool in 1976 and moved on to London, being one of the earliest productions at the National Theatre when it opened that year. The JAMs rode the wave of electronic and house music in the later 1980s, making prolific use of samples and the beatbox. After two albums, the pair released a novelty single, "Doctorin' the Tardis", which they released as The Timelords, and which mashed up Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire's epochal Doctor Who theme with Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll" and other tracks. The intention was to make a number-one hit single and to that effect, they also released a book called The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way). And they succeeded, for one week in June 1988.

The White Room

After The Timelords came The KLF. This name was used for largely instrumental dance tracks, taking their cue from the trance movement. While you could argue that popular music has always had a visual side, from album cover designs onwards, it was in the 1970s and especially the 1980s that video was as much a part of the package as the sounds emanating from the vinyl grooves. The KLF explored this in short videos and longer-form works. Their collaborator in this was filmmaker Bill Butt. Some of these videos stretched towards the shorter end of feature-length, such as the road movie The White Room, which was a troubled production never formally released, likewise its soundtrack, though bootlegs of both did circulate. The production left Drummond and Cauty short of money. Further singles appeared, in a genre they dubbed "stadium house" and they also produced remixes for such as Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys. In 1991, "Justified & Ancient", which featured vocals by country music star Tammy Wynette, was a worldwide hit, reaching number two in the UK charts. By 1991, the KLF were one of the biggest-selling singles acts in the world.

Another side of the band were its often controversial situationalist live performances. In 1992, they and Extreme Noise Terror performed at the BRIT Awards, with plans to douse the audience in blood and to gut a dead sheep on stage, or for Drummond to cut his own hand off with an axe. In the end, Drummond fired blanks at the audience. The PA announced that the KLF had left the music business, and this was formally confirmed three months later. Their records were all deleted and their videos placed under embargo, and they remained so for twenty-three years.

23 Seconds to Eternity is a two-hour compilation of the KLF's (and other aliases) films, in chronological order and held together by captions from Bill Butt. Like their music, ambience is everything: even in the relatively self-contained road movie The White Room (at forty-four minutes almost a feature film in itself) with lyrics rather throwaway when they appear – for example a list of northern towns in "It's Grim Up North" – though that's undoubtedly my missing the point. Formats vary, as Butt used 16mm for some films and in others 35mm, including hiring the vast 007 stage at Pinewood Studios with huge sets, a water tank and many extras for the "America: What Time is Love?" and "Justified & Ancient" promos. The film styles are various too, from the jokey "Doctorin' the Tardis" featuring very lo-fi junkshop Daleks, to the Wicker Man influences of the 29-minute "Rites of Mu", featuring narration by Martin Sheen and shot on the Inner Hebridean island of Jura. Another significant creative partner in these films was the cinematographer Henry Braham, who began on "Doctorin' the Tardis" and is now shooting large-scale Hollywood productions.

Doctorin' the Tardis

The track listing is as follows:

Doctorin' the Tardis (1988)
The White Room (1989)
Kylie Said to Jason (1989)
Stadium House Trilogy (1991)
Rites of Mu (1991)
It's Grim Up North (1991)
America: What Time is Love? (1992)
Justified & Ancient (1991)
KRASH (1992, previously unreleased)

sound and vision

23 Seconds to Eternity is a dual-format release from the BFI, a Blu-ray and a PAL-format DVD, both encoded for all regions. A checkdisc of the Blu-ray version was supplied for review. The film has a 15 certificate, which it earns almost at the start with a sample of MC5's "Kick Out the Jams" complete with Oedipal noun.

The film was originated in 16mm and 35mm depending on the video, and aspect ratios vary from 1.33:1, 1.66:1 to 1.85:1. The remaster uses SD video and film sources. As each promo has its own look, the transfer is very various, ending with the smeary and grainy black and white 16mm of "KRASH" to the rich golden hues of "Rites of Mu" and the very colourful "Justified & Ancient". On Blu-ray especially you'll be viewing these films at higher resolution than you would have on a television set at the time.

The Rites of Mu

The soundtrack is LPCM 2.0, which plays in surround. As you would expect, the music is the show here, and it's well rendered, with a not insignificant amount of bass even without a dedicated LFE channel. English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are available for the feature only.

I have one question, though. The present Blu-ray runs at twenty-four frames per second (running 121:09). I don't have the DVD version to hand, but as per the press release it's 25 fps and runs 116:19. Given that this is a music title, frame-rate is particularly important as it means that one of these is out of key by about half a semitone. As I don't have perfect pitch, I can't tell you if the Blu-ray I'm listening to as I type this is correct or flat by that amount, so caveat emptor.

special features

A Chance to Play with the Big Toys (41:20)
This is an extensive interview piece often found on BFI release, with the director of these films, Bill Butt. This is as much a career overview, as he begins by talking about how he met Bill Drummond at art school in 1970. In those days, film production was heavily unionised (unlike today when you can go out and shoot on a phone if you so wish) and one reason why Butt was hired by the KLF to make their promo films was because he was a union member. There are plenty of anecdotes about the filmmaking, such as his taking time out from his honeymoon to shoot the "Doctorin' the Tardis" promo. Butt talks about his long collaboration with Henry Braham. He's now sanguine about the KLF putting all his work under embargo, particularly as much of the filmmaking relied on favours, which included hiring the 007 Stage at Pinewood.

KLF: Unfinished, with optional commentary by Robert Milton Wallace (28:38)
A fly-on-the-wall piece about the making of the "Justified & Ancient" promo at Pinewood, which captures the sheer amount of labour involved in making a short film of a mere four minutes or so. We see the camera crew and set construction people at work, as well as the makeup artists tending to those on screen. Tammy Wynette gets to see her costume, commenting that it makes her look like Madonna. Director Robert Milton Wallace provides a commentary which is pretty much describing what's on screen and now and then remarking on how different filmmaking is now to what it was then.

This is Not What the KLF is About (14:35)
More fly-on-the-wall, this time on the making of the Stadium Trilogy. Unlike the film-shot KLF: Unfinished, this originated on video and the results are very soft and occasionally deliberately noisy, with a discordant soundtrack, as if intended to be as much an artefact as the one it documents.


Four of them, for 23 Seconds to Eternity itself (1:55) and separate ones for "The White Room" (1:04), "The Rites of Mu" (1:07) and "KRASH" (1:00). As 23 Seconds to Eternity acts as a retrospective, it contains captions among the extracts from the films themselves, which in the case of the last-named is not much longer than its own trailer.

Stills gallery (2:54)
A self-navigating slide show of images, mostly black and white with some colour, of the various film shoots, both behind-the-scenes pictures and promotional images from the films.

The BFI's booklet, available with the first pressing only, runs to thirty-two pages. It begins with "From the Direktor" [sic], in other words an introduction by Bill Butt to a project which in effect took thirty-six years to film, and the assembly of which was kicked off by Butt's having the can of footage shot for "KRASH" scanned. This led to it being edited and it becoming part of 23 Seconds to Eternity.

Over to music writer and KLF collaborator and publicist Mick Houghton, who in "What Time is Kaos?", provides the overview essay for this release, beginning with Bills Drummond and Butt meeting at Northampton College of the Arts, long before either was in the film or music business. Butt was there at the outset, being hired to shoot the first images of Drummond and Cauty, which appear at the start of 23 Seconds to Eternity. From the rough-and-ready and tongue-in-cheek "Doctorin' the Tardis", Butt, the KLF and Henry Braham went on to the much larger-scale later films. The White Room involved a car journey across Spain and made use of aerial camerawork and a Steadicam. That led to "Justified & Ancient" and "America: What Time is Love" being shot at Pinewood, the latter including a Viking ship made for Terry Jones's Erik the Viking. After that, "It's Grim Up North" was on a much smaller scale, most of it shot on a motorway then under construction.

America: What Time is Love?

"Kinema Liberation Force: 3 A.M. Eternal" is an appreciation by William Fowler of the KLF, and particularly the promo films which Butt directed, which he rightly says were meant to look like cinema when cinema itself was drawing on pop promos for its aesthetics. Next up is an unsigned three-page biography of Bill Butt and KLF Communications' (i.e. Drummond, Cauty and Butt) seven-page introduction to The White Room. The booklet also includes full credits for 23 Seconds to Eternity and notes on and credits for the extras.


23 Seconds to Eternity certainly preserves a significant period in British music, British dance music in particular, and is a showcase for the inventiveness of music promos, many innovations of which have later fed into more conventionally narrative feature production. Inevitably its success will depend on personal musical taste, though the historical significance is undoubted. Even if you aren't convinced of the music's greatness, you have to admire the band and their collaborators' efforts in attempting to persuade you of it. As such, it is well-served by this BFI release.

23 Seconds to Eternity Dual Format cover
23 Seconds to Eternity

UK 2023
106 mins
directed by
Dan Butt
executive producers
Jimmy Cauty
Bill Drummond
written by
Bill Butt
Jimmy Cauty
Bill Drummond
Henry Braham
Michael Bateman
Dan Butt
Torquil Deacen
Robert Wallace
Rob Wright
The Jams | The Timelords | The KLF

disc details
region 0
LPCM 2.0 surround
English SDH
special features
Bill Butt interview
KLF: Unfinished, with optional commentary by Robert Milton Wallace
This is Not What the KLF is About featurette
Stills gallery

release date
6 November 2023
review posted
15 November 2023

See all of Gary Couzens' reviews