You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A Band Called Death

An unexpectedly emotional docu on the revival of an African-American rock group that's among those to usher in punk music.

With: David Hackney, Bobby Hackney Sr., Dannis Hackney, Brian Spears, Heidi Simpson, Bobby Hackney.

Death comes back to life in “A Band Called Death,” Mark Covino and Jeff Howlett’s unexpectedly emotional docu on the revival of an African-American rock group that’s among those to usher in punk music. The filmmakers’ savvy structural decisions yield powerful momentum and compelling interest from start to finish, fusing the strengths of a nonfiction narrative, featuring a memorably haunting subject, with a music movie’s entertainment value. Fest play should rock both Stateside and abroad, with distrib groupies in tow.

Brothers David, Bobby and Dannis Hackney grew up in their loving mom’s Detroit home in the early ’70s, sponging up the sounds of the Who and Jimi Hendrix rather than their friends’ Motown and funk favorites. As they describe it from a present-day standpoint, eldest brother David prompted them to explore the outer reaches of rock as they jammed in their bedroom, coming up with a sound nobody around their parts had ever heard before.

Coining the commercially fatal name Death as the group’s moniker, David also wrote the lyrics (for such future underground legendary tracks as “Keep on Knocking”) and, borrowing a page from the prog-rock playbook, fashioned the band’s high-concept metaphysical thematics. The amusing, amazing episode that brings the lads to a first-rate Detroit recording studio lends the tale its first of several impossible-but-true incidents (including a bona fide full-length LP recording), followed by David incredibly turning down an offer from Clive Davis to sign with Arista Records because of Davis’ sole condition: Drop the name Death.

As it was, the trio’s revolutionary sound never hit the radio while David was leader, and a relative’s offer to bring them to Vermont proved a life-changer, as Bobby and Dannis never returned to Detroit. The 1980s saw a gradual split, as David returned to their hometown with wife, Heidi, who calls him “a dreamer,” while the more pragmatic but less visionary Bobby and Dannis formed a locally popular reggae group.

David increasingly becomes a ghostlike figure in the film, a study in extraordinary talent stifled before it could fully develop. Almost invisibly, “A Band Called Death” evolves into a detective story and a nearly miraculous tale of the next generation of a family restoring the memory and art of one of its elders. Long neglected, the tapes of the original Detroit sessions are found in a garage, and through the kind of hardcore network that exists only in subgenres of pop music, word spreads that one of the rarest punk records of all time has resurfaced. The pic’s onstage emotional climax is the kind of music moment you just can’t make up. Covino and Howlett and their ever-ready cameras are there to cover all of it, having been granted remarkable access by the family. Although talking-heads segments are plentiful, their lively air avoids stodginess. The Detroit recording session segment comprises vibrant animation of black-and-white photos.

A Band Called Death

Production: A Haven Entertainment and OGB presentation in association with Howlermano Prods. (International sales: Cinetic Media, New York.) Produced by Scott Mosier, Matthew Perniciaro, Kevin Mann, Jerry Ferrara. Directed by Mark Covino, Jeff Howlett.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, HD), Covino, Howlett; editor, Rich Fox; music, Sam Retzer, Tim Boland; sound (stereo), Joe Egan, Rob O'Dea, Scott Duval; supervising sound editor, Zach Martin; re-recording mixers, Gary A. Rizzo, Martin; visual effects, Stellar Hawk. Reviewed at Wilshire screening room, Beverly Hills, June 6, 2012. (In Los Angeles Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 98 MIN.

Cast: With: David Hackney, Bobby Hackney Sr., Dannis Hackney, Brian Spears, Heidi Simpson, Bobby Hackney.

More Scene

  • Robert De Niro

    Robert De Niro Slams Trump Administration at Tribeca Opening Night

    The 18th annual Tribeca Film Festival opened with Roger Ross Williams’ documentary “The Apollo” at the iconic uptown venue which performers and Harlem community members call “home.” “You can feel the history, the echo of the entertainers,” Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert De Niro said in a speech before the film. “In this administration, during [...]

  • Lilli Cooper Tootsie

    How the 'Tootsie' Musical Was Updated for the #MeToo Era

    Turning the beloved 1982 comedy “Tootsie” into a 21st century musical already seemed like a challenge when work on the adaptation began back in 2016. Then the #MeToo movement revved up — and the writers knew they couldn’t tell Dorothy’s story for a modern audience without it. “It’s different than it was when the movie [...]

  • Ralph Fiennes attends a special screening

    Ralph Fiennes on Directing Rudolf Nureyev Biopic: 'It's Been a Very, Very Long Road'

    Ralph Fiennes celebrated his latest directorial outing, “The White Crow,” on Monday night in New York City. The Sony Pictures Classics film tells the story of legendary dancer Rudolf Nureyev. “It’s been a very, very long road. We were mad. We were mad to take on this subject of Rudolf Nureyev. Mad. Completely mad,” Fiennes [...]

  • Taylor Swift Time 100 Performance

    Watch Taylor Swift's Time 100 Gala Performance and Speech

    Just two nights out from Taylor Swift D-day spring 2019 — i.e., Thursday’s release of a new single — Swift made an appearance Tuesday at the Time 100 event in New York, where she did not let loose with any spoiler performances of new music but did sing a few fan favorites, including “Style,” “Delicate,” and [...]

  • Katie HolmesAT&T Presents: Untold Stories Luncheon

    Katie Holmes, Kal Penn Help Decide Winner of $1 Million Filmmaker Grant

    Tribeca Film Festival and AT&T gave one young filmmaker a million and one reasons to rejoice at the “Untold Stories” third annual competition. After a nerve-wracking 10-minute long pitch in front of over 850,000 live stream audience members and a panel consisting of celebrities and industry leaders, filmmaker Kate Tsang was awarded $1 million Monday [...]

  • Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow'Hillary and Clinton'

    Why John Lithgow Worried About Starring in Broadway's 'Hillary and Clinton'

    When Lucas Hnath first conceived of “Hillary and Clinton” in 2008, he was writing for and about a very different America. Now, a total reimagining of the show has made its way to Broadway with Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the titular roles. At the opening on Thursday night, the cast and creatives talked [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content