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Review: 'A Band Called Death' documentary whips up inspiration

'A Band Called Death' documentary has energy and soul: movie review.

By Robert Abele

8:00 AM EDT, June 27, 2013

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If ever a movie about punk deserved to be called legitimately sweet and life-affirming, it's the documentary "A Band Called Death." It's the unlikely story of a Detroit-bred brotherhood of three — David, Dannis and Bobby Hackney, oddball African American rockers in a Motown world — who toiled in defiant '70s obscurity with a hard-edged, politically aware garage trio that, years after they disbanded and sought different musical paths, were later determined by rock connoisseurs to be embryonic punk visionaries. (In true anti-establishment fashion, they turned down a major label recording contract over a demand that they pick a more fan-friendly name than Death.)

Directors Mark Covino and Jeff Howlett wring much energy and soulfulness from the Hackneys' tale, which is a family story of deeply felt music, hard-fought ideals, lasting grief and the revivifying passion whipped up years later by treasure-hunting, file-sharing music enthusiasts. Along with dynamic archival photographs and footage, Dannis and Bobby are ebullient, open-hearted raconteurs about their younger selves and the spiritual, artistically inspiring impact their brother David, who died in 2000, had on them.

There's even a beautiful, familial twist to the nature of the group's rediscovery that'll widen any already-planted smile. Joy and redemption aren't exactly punk mantras, but "A Band Called Death" might just give your heart a thrashing.

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"A Band Called Death."

Rating: No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 98 minutes

Playing at: Cinefamily, Los Angeles.

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