The Kraftwerk documentary aired by the BBC tonight was a pretty grim experience. Billed as an examination of Kraftwerk as ‘total art’, it was a promising proposition, with interviews with Can’s Holger Czukay, Detroit techno star Derrick May, and Kraftwerk pal Francois Kevorkian. Along for the ride was, almost inevitably, former NME writer and first-call cultural commentator Paul Morley.
Airtime was given to a Kraftwerk party in fashionable ‘Bethnal Green’ for people who didn’t get tickets to the Tate Modern shows in 2013, there was an almost criminal amount of Coldplay, and so much time was devoted to Paul Morley’s insights that even he was looking exhausted. He may even have grown a beard during his several hours of interview.
Derrick May was one of the few people who communicated his enthusiasm for Kraftwerk without repeating himself.
The first warnings that this documentary might not deliver the goods came when the subtitles referred to ‘Pierre’ Karoli of Can (the last time we looked his name was Michael) and misspelled ‘immediately’. Someone wasn’t really paying attention. And once the black and white footage of the band’s early years was dispensed with, the whole thing descended into an a-chronological hodge-podge of clips of the Tate Modern shows and increasingly worthless commentary from Morley. If there was a thread, the film makers lost it early on, and in the end it came across as cheaply made, leaning heavily on low-cost talking heads interview and not merely skimming over the essential narrative of Kraftwerk, but rendering it a garbled mess shouted at you in a noisy pub by a half-drunk ‘fan’ who first encountered Kraftwerk at Latitude in 2013.
The documentary’s weakness was made all the more obvious when ‘Synth Britannia’ followed on BBC4. In ten minutes, with the help of Wolfgang Flür who was actually in Kraftwerk, and the excellent but under-used commentator Simon Reynolds, it told the story of Kraftwerk far more effectively and with more authority.