‘A Band Called Death’: Tale of proto-punk rockers a joyful jolt
A movie review of “A Band Called Death,” an uplifting documentary about three black brothers from Detroit who created proto-punk rock in 1975, fell into decades of obscurity and then were miraculously rediscovered 34 years later.
Special to The Seattle Times
‘A Band Called Death,’ a documentary directed by Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino. 96 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. SIFF Cinema at the Uptown.
Here’s a blatant blurb for you: “A Band Called Death” is without a doubt “the feel-good movie of the year!”
I’m not exaggerating. If you’re looking for a 96-minute jolt of joy, look no further than this uplifting, well-made documentary about three black brothers from Detroit, minister’s sons who formed a band called Death in spring 1974 and invented “punk before punk was punk.”
That last line echoes The New York Times headline (Google it) that announced Death to the world in early 2009, when the band’s one and only LP was belatedly released, becoming an instant rock sensation 34 years after it was recorded in 1975. That was two years before the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Patti Smith and the Clash, and yet nobody knew about Death until they were miraculously revived through the escalating excitement of record collectors and connoisseurs of rock ’n’ roll obscurities.
Two-thirds of the band survive. Along with their entire extended family, Bobby and Dannis Hackney are extensively featured in “A Band Called Death,” and most of their ebullient reminiscence focuses on their late, older brother David, Death’s bandleader and spiritual guide, who succumbed to lung cancer in 2000.
It was David (like his brothers, a devoted Christian) who was spiritually rocked by their father’s tragic death in a car accident, prompting him to name their nascent band Death (and refusing, against the advice of music-industry bigwigs, to change the name). Later, he presciently predicted that Death’s music would be heard and appreciated long after his death.
I won’t spoil the rest of the Death story, except to say “A Band Called Death” (which features interviews with Kid Rock, Alice Cooper, Henry Rollins and others) is, at its roots, a film about a loving, supportive family who stuck together, bonded by faith. In that light, it’s hard to deny the spiritual aspect of their musical resurrection. Some things, it seems, are truly preordained.