Like The Man Nobody Knew, about former C.I.A. director William E. Colby, Deconstructing Dad: The Music, Machine, and Mystery of Raymond Scott is a work of careful consideration, moral weighing, and deliberateness of craft, though it feels especially well-balanced, a proud show-and-tell response to growing fan interest in Raymond Scott and director Stan Warnow’s genuine, profit-less desire to understand a father he hardly knew.
Because of the low-profile Scott preferred, you may not be familiar with his name, but you may recognize his tempo-changing music from numerous Warner Bros. cartoons. Scott, despite being a leader of a band that, for a time, made appearances in Hollywood movies, was a shy, behind-the-scenes type who seemingly always had secret projects cooking, many of which were pioneering, like his Clavivox, a 1950s sound synthesizer that Bob Moog cites as an influence for his analog synthesizer. In true biography style, Warnow affords us a glimpse into Scott’s restrained personality when he reads an unpublished, cryptically addressed letter his father wrote later in his life that seeks to take credit for inventing the polyphonic sequencer—a sign of past regrets as his fame and royalty checks faded.
While there’s plenty of information about Scott’s multifaceted career packed into Deconstructing Dad, there’s not much Warnow can share about his own experiences with his father because, as Stan’s sister tells us, Scott “wasn’t around, and when he was he wasn’t.” (The most memorable sign of affection he showed his daughter was when he built her a theremin, a project he undoubtedly would have enjoyed anyway.) In one poignant and sentimental scene, Warnow talks about his father with his own son, who turns the camera on him. Not only do we see a camera-shyness in Warnow that’s traceable to Scott, but Warnow explains how the lack of a relationship with his father made him want to develop a more committed and involved relationship with his own child. It’s hard not to see some foreshadowing of Scott’s inability to foster a relationship with his children earlier on, starting with his distaste for improvisation in jazz (once he got his band to play the music right, he wanted them to simply repeat it each time) and, though it may sound neat, culminating in his aspirations for a technology that would allow him to skip the apparently unpleasant process of actually playing music he would hear in his head and simply beam it telepathically straight into his audiences’ heads.