Detroit’s Hackney brothers weren’t that much ahead of their time in 1974, when they started playing speedy hard rock. But they were probably the first African American musicians to adopt the style that became known as “punk.” And they suffered commercially for choosing a name that was then unfashionably severe: Death.
Mark Covino and Jeff Howlett’s “A Band Called Death” is illuminating, and sometimes moving, when it recounts the group’s stillborn career. The trio recorded an album in 1975 but was able to release only a limited-edition single. Death split in 1978, and drummer Dannis and singer-bassist Bobby started a reggae band in Vermont. Guitarist David, the least compromising of the three, wasn’t into that. He returned to Detroit, where he died of lung cancer in 2000.
Then came an unexpected development, one that raises the movie’s energy. In 2008, record collectors initiated a resurrection. Soon, Bobby’s three sons formed a Death tribute band, the album was finally released and a reunion tour commenced.
The documentary overstates Death’s distinctiveness and prescience. The trio did not predate the Ramones, as one admirer claims. Such enthusiasm has its value, though. It was fans’ ardor that began the Death revival and propels the movie’s exhilarating second half.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
Unrated. At AFI Silver Theatre and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema One. Contains nothing objectionable. 96 minutes.