A BAND CALLED DEATH Takes The On Demand StageMay 23, 2013

A BAND CALLED DEATH Takes The On Demand Stage

Drafthouse Films

On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand and from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: A BAND CALLED DEATH (Drafthouse Films), is available for digital download and VOD.

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By T. Tara Turk


As a writer, every so often I read a truth that’s so much stranger than fiction, I almost get jealous I didn’t conjure it myself.


The rockumentary A BAND CALLED DEATH is so fantastical...


...that I wouldn’t have believed if it the filmmakers hadn’t presented such great evidence of this crazy story of a black pre-punk band made up of three brothers from Detroit and their 35 year comeback.

Let’s cover the parts of the story that aren’t so foreign to most of us, especially garage bands. Three brothers start jamming together. They create what they think is some of the best music that could come out of their veins. They find a studio to record. They almost get a deal. They don’t compromise though and the deal goes the way of the wind. Slowly they disband after trying several incarnations of the music they’ve created only to wind up with one brother walking away and the two remaining brothers forming a bar reggae band in New England.


Bob / A BAND CALLED DEATH (Drafthouse Films)

Got it? Good because there’s so much more that’s completely beyond belief.

The fact that Dannis, Bob and David Hackney were able to form a band playing pre punk in 1973, two years before anyone knew what a Ramone was, in the middle of Motown would be surprising to some but not to anyone who’s actually been raised in Detroit. Detroit is and has always been a renaissance city (even my high school is named Renaissance) that could host so many different art forms that it’s a wonder we don’t have music hall of fames, Detroit muse statues and a Mount Olympus of our own.

The fact that Clive Davis offered the band a deal in the mid 70s but David, the group’s leader and visionary, refused to change the band’s name no matter the circumstances is the stuff most hardcore rebel musicians dreams are made of.


I would gather though, those dreams usually end with Mr. Davis coming around, band creates amazing record, sold out shows, gluttonous indulgences abound and ends with a judge chair on a current music contest show in the 2000s. Didn’t happen. Instead, the band chose to print 500 45s that went out into the world like wayward homing pigeons.

Now habiting New England (yes, you read that right. Three African American brothers thought New England in the 1970s was a place called home), they try a religious rock album after not getting any traction on their previous 45s. Beat down, the visionary brother, David, packs up his demons, tortured artists soul and new wife to go back to Detroit. Bob and Dannis stay behind, have families and start a reggae band while working night jobs.

In a series of events that one probably has only seen in Greek Mythology or an Agatha Christie novel, one of the lost 45s becomes a hit in the underground punk scene 35 years later, a few years after David - the artistic tortured soul who never quite rebounded from not seeing his plan come to fruition - dies. The three nearly grown sons of Bobby Hackney describe, in a moment that gave me every goosebump in the 25 mile radius of where I was watching, what it felt like to hear “the greatest punk music” they’d ever heard and to find out it was their father and uncles. And how their band, Rough Francis, was born.

I can’t tell you everything else (there’s so much more) because the magic is in the details of this understated but moving rockumentary filled with concert footage, amazing photos, moving interviews from the family and caper like testimonies of those who rediscovered the band that played punk before there was punk. I keep telling people my first hometown of Detroit is filled with artistic magic (see SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN - the Oscar winning doc about the folk singer who was unknowingly famous in South Africa).


It has inspired and sprouted so many talented musicians (see above and add the late great beats genius from the OkayPlayer crew - J. Dilla, to your already heavy knowledge of Motown music), writers (writer/publisher Jessica Care Moore - the first poet to win at the Apollo who has gone on to mix poetry and media, filmmaker/writer/journalist dream hampton - one of the first female hip hop journalists and essayists and playwright/actress Dominique Morisseau - an amazing playwright caring on the August Wilson tradition working on plays in a series but focused on Detroit to name a few) and the list goes on.

If there’s any place that needs a fantastical story, it’s Detroit. While most cities that have given so much to the country get second chances, seems like Detroit has a hard time getting its half a chance for various reasons. But this rockumentary made me remember why this city and its people are so great and why we can’t ever give up on a dream...even if it takes decades.




- T. Tara Turk

T. Tara Turk is a novelist/playwright/screenwriter, living in LA with her boyfriend and dog - all three successful TV addicts. You can find her at www.ttaraturk.com or follow her on Twitter @ttaraturk.

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