Deconstructing Dad

Deconstructing Dad

Raymond Scott in his studio circa 1955 as seen in DECONSTRUCTING DAD: THE MUSIC, MACHINES AND MYSTERY OF RAYMOND SCOTT, a film by Stan Warnow. Picture courtesy of Waterfall Films. All rights reserved.

Deconstructing Dad

Animation Sequence:
Sound Mixer:
Production Company:
  • Waterfall Films

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Deconstructing Dad (2010/2012)

Also Known As: Deconstructing Dad: The Music, Machines and Mystery of Raymond Scott

Opened: 07/13/2012 Limited

Quad Cinema/NYC07/13/2012 - 07/19/20127 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home

Genre: Documentary

Rated: Unrated


Deconstructing Dad: The Music, Machines and Mystery of Raymond Scott is a documentary exploration of the life and work of American maverick composer, bandleader, inventor, and electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott (1908-1994), presented from a unique perspective -- the filmmaker is his only son.

Going beyond biographical documentary, it is also a personal quest to unravel the timeless fabric of love, connection and rejection that are a part of every parent child relationship, with the additional element of a famous father obsessed with his work, and further complicated by divorce and related scandal.

It deals with the ambivalence the filmmaker still feels for his emotionally distant father- a mixture of love, admiration and sadness for all that was missing from their relationship. But combined with this personal angle is always a return to the fascinating story of this Jewish-American music innovator who had a meteoric rise to household name success, a slow spiral into obscurity, an extended struggle with a series of strokes, and now, posthumously, a growing national and international awareness of his vital role in modern music -- his work has been performed by groups ranging from Rush and Devo to the Kronos Quartet and sampled by countless DJ's and hip-hop artists including hip hop legend, the late J-Dilla.

The film is a cinematic tapestry of contemporary documentary scenes, stills, home movies, film and television excerpts (Scott was orchestra leader on the 1950's Hit Parade TV show), cartoon excerpts (Carl Stalling, legendary music director at Warner Brothers licensed Scott's tunes to amplify the antics of Bugs Bunny and company), musical performances and interviews.

Scott recorded everything said in the studio plus his phone conversations, and there is a lengthy audio interview, plus an appearance with Edward R. Murrow on Person to Person so Scott's own words are one thread in the fabric of the film -- which is in turn revealing in its examination of a complicated, often dysfunctional family, humorous in conveying Scott's own quirkiness, serious in dealing with his rigorous devotion to his creative and technical work, and unflinching in portraying his flaws and failings.

It also explores the American immigrant experience, particularly the Jewish immigrant experience and how the desire to assimilate shaped the lives of so many children of first generation Jewish immigrants.

The film is filled with Raymond Scott's eclectic music- some of it played by contemporary musicians as they discuss and illustrate why they love it. The Raymond Scott Quintette, the groundbreaking group that brought him his early fame, played a unique madcap amalgam of jazz and composed music. In the 1940's Scott formed, conducted and composed for the first integrated network radio orchestra dynamic big band featuring jazz greats like Ben Webster and Cozy Cole. Later, he was a synthesizer pioneer, mentoring the young Robert Moog. Raymond Scott's crowning invention was the Electronium, a "simultaneous composition and performance machine" purchased by Motown.

Interviewees include his children and two of his wives, first wife Pearl (the filmmaker's mother), and third wife Mitzi. Sadly, his second wife and protege, the singer Dorothy Collins, died before production of this film-the fascinating story of their scandalous relationship is told through the recollections of others. Other interviewees include Academy Award winning composer John Williams; Devo co--founder Mark Mothersbaugh; cutting edge music producer Hal Willner; Paul D. Miller, AKA DJ Spooky; Moog synthesizer co--inventor Herb Deutsch, Grammy nominated musicians Don Byron and Jeremy Cohen as well as many others. The end result is a complete and compelling portrait of this under recognized musical and technical genius.

Director's Statement

This is a film that I felt utterly compelled to make in order to do all that I could to honor my father's life and legacy -- to make every effort to ensure that his name and work will live on. It is unashamedly a labor of love. Making this film is also an attempt on some level to achieve a closeness with him that we never achieved in life, for me to gain an insight into aspects of his character and soul that I had no sense of during his life.

The genesis of the film was a very specific moment during my dad's memorial service when I suddenly realized that I did feel a traditional son's love for him that I had tried to deny for almost my whole life. And from that awareness came a sense of injustice that he had been essentially forgotten by the public as the years passed, and that many of the wonderful things he had accomplished had never even been publicized at all. I began thinking that I had to make a film, but the realities of life kept intruding -- the need to earn a living, pay for my own kids' college education, the tasks of getting by in the world.

Finally in 2000 I began to take concrete steps. Knowing my Mother was approaching 90 and her health was beginning to decline, I shot my interview with her that summer. And over the next few years I continued to shoot various sequences when I had the time. I also began trying to raise money, though that was a whole separate and very difficult task. I did eventually get two much appreciated grants in 2008, one from The Foundation for Jewish Culture's Documentary Film Fund and another from the New York State Council on the Arts. That was the same year, having finished paying for my youngest son's college education, I resolved that I would work full time on the film until it was done.

It is very important to me that this film is undeniably "a film by," that I as the filmmaker am fulfilling every essential role except animator, sound mixer and composer (virtually all music is of course composed by Raymond Scott). I want the viewer to feel they are experiencing the events of the film through my eyes and ears as well as their own. I've therefore deliberately chosen to shoot even interviews handheld so that the viewer will be aware, however subtly, that there is a living, breathing, human being behind the camera who is reacting personally to what is being said or in some cases played musically. Similarly, I want them to know that every editorial choice and technique they see has been created by me as the filmmaker who is the son of the subject of the film.

Of course I wanted to create a work that transcends its specific subject matter and sheds light on universal issues. On this project those issues encompass the timeless desire of offspring of any age to understand their parents, themselves, and the ties between them; the nature of the creative process as expressed specifically through my father's work; the elusive dynamic and interplay between art and commerce -- how vital promotion can be in recognizing and perpetuating creative achievement, and conversely, how a lack of it can consign an artist to the dustbin of history.

Similarly the film deals with how an artist's persona can be a major component in success or failure -- Raymond Scott didn't enjoy being the center of attention -- he wasn't a charismatic charmer, and consequently he had less of a following than he otherwise would have. Also, he most definitely wasn't a businessman, and like so many artists who achieve some material success, suffered for that lack -- his business advisers and managers gave him years of bad advice that left him virtually penniless as his career waned.

I hope viewers will come to see my Dad as I have come to see him -- as an enormously accomplished and deeply dedicated man of many talents despite his flaws and his limitations as a parent. And I hope they will have a new awareness, as I do now, just how vital his contributions are to the music and technology of the 20th and 21st centuries!