Pin It
Favorite

Life After Death 

The next great rock doc uncovers the true forefathers of punk rock

click to enlarge The original punks.
  • The original punks.

A Band Called Death is this season’s engaging entry in the burgeoning field of the should’ve/could’ve/would’ve rock documentary. Along the lines of last year’s Oscar-winning Searching for Sugar ManA Band Called Death chronicles the life, death and rediscovery of a musical act that folded without achieving success, only to be exhumed decades later by a seeming quirk of fate. Although the film is never fully convincing about this rock band’s overlooked potential — despite testimonials from the likes of Alice Cooper, Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra, and Elijah Wood — the story of Death adds an interesting and previously virtually unknown footnote to the annals of punk rock.

The three Hackney brothers — Bobby, Dannis, and David — formed the band Death in the early ’70s, and it’s clear from the unearthed recordings that they were a proto-punk outfit that preceded the movement’s great outpouring later in the decade. That they were an African-American minister’s kids from Detroit during an era when that city’s Motown Records ruled the pop airwaves only adds to the band’s legend as rock iconoclasts. These black kids, by their own description, were playing “white boys’ music.” Honing their chops in their bedroom rehearsal space and picking a recording studio by throwing a dart at the Yellow Pages, Death was guided by the visionary drive of eldest brother David, who was also responsible for their moniker.

As they shopped their demo, many parties were interested in their original sound but put off by their name. According to the film, even hit-making legend Clive Davis was interested in signing them but insisted on a name change, a deal-breaker for David. The band dissolved and its members moved to Vermont. Before he died, David gave the master tapes to his brothers for safekeeping, hoping for the recognition he was certain would one day find them.

That discovery came 35 years later, when the next generation of Hackneys chanced across Death at a college party. Long story short, a renewed band called Death now performs the music as a tribute and lesson in the byways of rock history. The documentary is a captivating story about family loyalty and little-explored dimensions of black American culture. It’s chock-full of black-and-white photos and Super-8 home movies, though the narrative is sometimes repetitive and the final section, consisting of the new band’s performances, seems more like clips from a press kit than an essential part of the story. Still, A Band Called Death was rousing enough to win an Audience Award at this year’s SXSW Film Festival and get picked up for distribution by Drafthouse Films, which is how the film ended up in Spokane this week. 

Tags:

  • Pin It

Latest in Film

  • Seashell Secrets
  • Seashell Secrets

    Song of the Sea is a beautiful story of siblings struggling to cope and understand each other
    • Feb 25, 2015
  • Con Err
  • Con Err

    Focus mistakenly emphasizes romance over sleight of hand
    • Feb 25, 2015
  • The Contenders
  • The Contenders

    A look at this year's Oscar field
    • Feb 18, 2015
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat
Leisure Cruise

Leisure Cruise @ The Bartlett

Mon., March 2, 8 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

or

More by Marjorie Baumgarten

  • Tough Living
  • Tough Living

    Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman is a Western loaded with historical realities
    • Jan 7, 2015
  • The One Who Knocks
  • The One Who Knocks

    Why an Australian indie called The Babadook became one of 2014's creepiest films
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • More »

Most Commented On

Top Tags in
Music & Film

Music


Film


Folk


Review


Rock


© 2015 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation