A Band Called Death (2012)

9 Overall Score
Interviews: 9/10
Subject: 9/10
Structure: 8/10

Fantastic soundtrack,

Lacking 70's live footage of the band.

A Band Called Death

Dir: Mark Covino, Jeff Howlett

Bobby Hackney, Dannis Hackney, David Hackney

Like all great documentaries, A Band Called Death, is more than just a film about an obscure early 70’s proto-punk band from Detroit during the height of the Mowtown era.  At its core, the film is about a loving and supportive family, under the guise of a rock documentary, told through a series of interviews with the family, band members.  Structurally, it’s similar to most documentaries of this type, imploring photo montage to explore the past of the band as well as celebrity interviews with Henry Rollins, Elijah Wood, Questlove, etc…

Growing up, David, Dannis and Bobby Hackney were constantly exposed to music, recalling in the film the mornings they would spend listening to the radio while eating breakfast, and watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show at their father’s behest.  It was this that prompted them to begin playing music, and with the support of their parents (not many would allow their children to convert their bedroom into a practice space) they formed Rock Fire Funk Express, playing mostly funk and R&B.  It wasn’t until David saw The Who play that the music changed, and after the death of their father, so did the name.

After many failed attempts at commercial success, brought on by unwillingness to change their name from Death, the band self released one single in 1973, “Politicians in My Eyes” b/w “Keep on Knocking,” and eventually cease to be in 1976.  The film then follows everything that happened after the end of Death, including the untimely death of David Hackney to lung cancer, through to their rediscovery.

The story of Death is interesting because they were a band that never made it big during their time, so while there may be similarities between this film and others like Anvil: The Story of Anvil (Gervasi, 2008), this is not about a band that was on the rise and then fell into obscurity.  Instead, Death is a band no one ever really heard of until 2009 when there 70’s demos were finally release by Drag City Records.

I found this film to be very enjoyable and, not just because of the music (which is incredible), but because it is clear that the filmmakers have a genuine desire to tell this story.  You get the sense that Covino and Howlett weren’t just interested in the band as a band, but rather the people involved in it.  While everything else in the film seems routine (anyone who has watched a documentary will be familiar with the structure) it’s the family stories, particularly the one surrounding their father’s death, that make this film worth watching.  The only disappointment I have with the film is that there isn’t any live footage of the band from the early 70’s, which could hardly be blamed on the filmmakers, because it is more likely that none exists.

So whether you like the music or not this, film is worth watching just to get to know the Hackney family.


Author: Dan Folgar View all posts by
Dan Folgar received a degree in Cinema Studies from the University of Central Florida in 2008, and is currently working on an MFA in Fine Arts. He is an avid film watcher and an enthusiast who is prone to ranting. Follow on twitter @grim842.

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