Movie review: Death reborn in new rock-doc

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"The quick version of the Death story is almost like the tease at the beginning of a movie trailer," says former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins. In the '70s, three African-American brothers from Detroit rebelled against the city's Motown sound and formed a punk rock band.

Do it all before groups like The Sex Pistols and The Ramones made the genre cool just a few years later and you're going to grab people's attention.

'A Band Called Death'

2.5 stars = Average
Ratings explained

  • Rating:

    No MPAA rating but PG-13 in nature.

And that's exactly what Bobby (bass/vocals), Dannis (drums) and David Hackney (guitar), the sons of a Baptist minister, did.

"A Band Called Death" plays upon the unusual story of the early punk rockers but also strays from the music, calling up images of death and despair that have recently become synonymous with Detroit.

"It's pretty hard to be black playing rock in Detroit 'cause there were stereotypes that you had to be Motown if you were black," says fellow Detroit native Alice Cooper.

Citing influences like The Who and The Beatles, Death was born in a second-story room in the brothers' childhood home in the early '70s. They took up their one-word name in 1974 and disbanded in 1976.

According to Bobby, David had a slogan: "If I could play chords like Peter Townshend and play lead like Jimi Hendrix, that would be the ideal guitar player."

Much like the band's name, which cost the brothers a $20,000 record deal, the Hackneys' hometown has been slowly dying over the past few decades. Shots of decrepit homes and abandoned buildings can be seen throughout the film.

Near the end of the '70s, the band split after facing numerous rejections for everything from their skin color to the tempo of their songs.

The three brothers would later make another attempt at music as the gospel rock band The Fourth Movement in Burlington, Vt., but quickly transformed into the reggae band Lambsbread.

David, the creative genius and leader of Death, saw reggae as a cop-out and moved back to Detroit. Later in life, the visionary rocker would become a heavy drinker; he died of lung cancer in 2000.

They may not have achieved the kind of success as their role models, but more than three decades later, Death has refused to die, gaining increasing amounts of recognition as music fans keep the dream of the three brothers alive.

Plays Friday through Sunday at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room, Oakland.


Andrew Gretchko: or on Twitter: @Andrew_Gretchko.


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