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


Like many documentaries about misunderstood geniuses, the subject of Deconstructing Dad: The Music, Machines, and Mystery of Raymond Scott is more compelling than the filmmaker’s approach is cogent. Directed by Scott’s alienated son Stanley Warnow, Deconstructing Dad is a free-associative portrait of Scott as a multihyphenate musical prodigy. Scott did it all: He hosted his own nationally syndicated television program; had his music, including the famous “Powerhouse,” featured in about 100 Looney Tunes cartoons; created minimalist electronic music that predates both John Cage and Brian Eno; and invented predecessors of the modern-day fax machine and keyboard synthesizer. Unfortunately, Warnow’s film is too scattershot to be more than a fascinating, loosely arranged collection of trivia. Warnow’s biggest asset is the raw material at his disposal. He artlessly strings together archival television footage of Scott appearing on TV shows like Edward R. Murrow’s Person to Person with audio recordings and amateurishly shot interviews with erudite talking heads like music producer Gert-Jan Blom, bandleader Don Byron, and composer John Williams. As a result, Warnow’s portrait of his father is most compelling, if stunted, when it’s specifically about Scott’s life as a maverick musician, someone whom multiple experts compare to a proto–Frank Zappa. The stories about Scott’s family life here feel tangential, serving mostly to distract from anecdotes about Scott’s inventions, his dislike of Hollywood, and his irrational, self-loathing fear that his music would be dismissed for being “too Jewish.” Deconstructing Dad might be a messy biography, but it is a fascinating primer on Scott’s work. Simon Abrams