SXSW Film Review: Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and Legendary Tapes

Biodoc of pioneering musician is best when she speaks for herself

Caroline Catz as Delia Derbyshire in Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and Legendary Tapes

It starts with a cascading series of fragmented sounds and images, a visual representation of synth blips, tape hiss and warped voice recordings. Fittingly, SXSW selection Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and Legendary Tapes is more about the audio than the visual.

Images follow the sound, which is so fully described it could have been a radio play; director Caroline Catz takes a cue here from the pioneering electronic musician herself: “To construct moving screens of semi-abstract background music against which the listener can project his own image of God, heaven, dreams, the subjects being talked about by the voice in the foreground.”

The Myths and Legendary Tapes has its best moments when Catz sticks to the radio play, suggesting Derbyshire’s interior thoughts with layered ghostly visuals – particularly her early childhood experiences with the World War II Coventry Blitz and her fascination with the air raid siren. Cosey Fanni Tutti’s soundtrack and interviews with Derbyshire seamlessly score the more metaphysical scenes, encouraging the viewer to experience sound viscerally.

The film is at its weakest when Catz introduces (and stars in) a fictionalized recreation of Derbyshire’s life. It serves a purpose of grounding the viewer in the plot points – collaborating with other synth pioneers at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, creating the Doctor Who theme, experimenting with hippie culture, retiring to the country and drinking heavily in later life – but falls prey to heavy-handed characterization. At one point Derbyshire breaks the fourth wall to declare “I was a post-feminist before feminism was even invented”; Catz puts her in a Doctor Who red telephone booth to transport her through time; she stages a dream dinner with Mary Wollstonecraft and Ada Lovelace. It feels like a modern fantasy of who Derbyshire was; a legend indeed, but one that feels like a costume.

As a portrait of someone enamored with sound, the film rings true when her sounds speak for themselves; when she playfully records friends and collaborators Peter Zinovieff or David Vorhaus and chops and screws their voices, creating truly original electronic music ahead of her time – it’s no wonder Freddie Gibbs and Danny Brown sampled her work. “Delia’s a bit like a diamond,” friend Brian Hodgson says. “You shine the light through it, you get all sorts of different Delias.”

Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and Legendary Tapes

24 Beats

World Premiere

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

South By Southwest Has a New Investor
South By Southwest Has a New Investor
With 50% ownership in SXSW LLC, P-MRC provides “lifeline”

Kevin Curtin, April 18, 2021

SXSW Film Review: <i>When Claude Got Shot</i>
SXSW Film Review: When Claude Got Shot
Documentary goes beyond the headlines of Black-on-Black crime

Shane Pfender, April 7, 2021

More by Lina Fisher
Little Girl
Documentary about a young trans girl isn’t about her enough

Nov. 26, 2021

Enviro Groups Oppose Plans for Violet Crown Venue
Enviro Groups Oppose Plans for Violet Crown Venue
20,000-seat venue would sit amidst Barton Creek preserve

Nov. 19, 2021


SXSW 2021, SXSW Film 2021, Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and Legendary Tapes

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle