A Band Called Death


I spent 30 minutes last night watching Frances Ha before I turned off the movie. I wasn’t into it. I just didn’t care for the characters or story I was watching. I appreciate that it’s considered a great film. I even enjoyed little bits, namely Adam Driver seemingly transformed into Jean Paul Belmondo (with a touch of Stranger Than Paradise‘s John Lurie and Richard Edson) simply by putting on a hat. The cinematography is terrific. Maybe it is a great film. Because I didn’t finish it, I can offer no criticism of the whole value of Noah Baumbach’s latest. I am only at liberty to state that I gave it a shot and didn’t like it enough to continue. That’s my prerogative, right? Given that a lot of the basic praises the movie is receiving in terms of people loving it, regardless of whether it’s a great film or not, I feel okay putting it out there that I just don’t. Still, I wonder if it was too easy for me to walk away — or “walk out,” if we want to make it about the movie experience. It’s hard to believe that I would have enjoyed Frances Ha any more if I stuck with it the remaining 50 minutes, but at least I could be better qualified to discuss it as a work of art. After Tweeting that I turned it off because I didn’t like those 30 minutes I felt like I had judged the Mona Lisa after only getting […]


discs header what maisie knew

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. What Maisie Knew Maisie (Onata Aprile) is stuck in an all too familiar place as her parents, Susanna (Julianne Moore) and Beale (Steve Coogan), fight their way through a bitter divorce and custody battle. She’s shuttled between the two, often left in the care of her mom’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard) or dad’s girlfriend (Joanna Vanderham), but when she does get time with her parents it’s too frequently as a prop or tool in their ongoing fight. The future does not look bright from Maisie’s knee-high perspective. There’s a beautiful simplicity in Scott McGehee and David Siegel‘s fifth feature that sneaks in unobtrusively between the bouts of yelling, laughter, small victories and near-constant disappointment, and the result is a movie that compels you to watch and root for the little girl at the center of a terrible situation well outside her control. Viewers are privy only to what Maisie knows, we never see what happens behind closed doors or in lawyers’ offices, and while this forced perspective could have easily turned into a gimmick, it instead feels perfectly natural and necessary here. Acting is fantastic across the board, with newcomer Aprile being a true standout, and you really shouldn’t let the fact that Rex Reed is quoted on both the front and back of the Blu/DVD turn you away from this amazing little movie. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentary]


Under Great White Northern Lights

On the heels of last week’s rock doc opener, Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett’s A Band Called Death, rock n’ roll documentaries have been understandably on our collective brain. (Landon explored the genre and some of its recent attempts to “fix” rock music earlier this week.) Though A Band Called Death tells a great story about America’s first (and forgotten) punk band, I found it to be emotionally lacking (even with tons of appropriate emotion to mine for the production, including the death of its most influential member), which got me thinking about other rock docs that I found truly emotionally satisfying. There was only one that immediately came to mind, even though I had almost forgotten about its very existence. While A Band Called Death is an impressively comprehensive documentary about the band and the brothers, its desire to meticulously track the timeline of the story holds it back from having a tremendous emotional punch. It’s the sort of problem that can be common in documentary films (particularly in first-time outings, like A Band Called Death is) – an adherence to telling all the pertinent bits of a true story often rob it of the kind of emotional value that’s easier to build into a fictitious narrative film. Basically, some documentaries don’t take risks in their storytelling, instead sticking to linear expression, which is rarely that interesting or dramatic. It’s why documentary films that do take risks in their storytelling are so captivating and so acclaimed (think The […]


Band Called Death

June saw the buzzed-about release of not one, but two documentaries examining talented but underappreciated and not-at-all famous musicians: Morgan Neville’s 20 Feet From Stardom, about the careers of female back-up singers, and Mark Christopher Covino & Jeff Howlett’s A Band Called Death, about an African-American, Detroit-based proto-punk bank who recorded music and broke up before The Sex Pistols initiated any anarchy whatsoever in the UK. These two documentaries are hardly the first non-fiction films to focus on the lives and extraordinary-ordinary struggles of marginal musical subjects: Sacha Gervasi’s popular Anvil! The Story of Anvil was perhaps the first really visible instantiation of this subgenre, which reached its height when Searching for Sugar Man struck awards show and box office gold, resurrecting the career of long-forgotten singer-songwriter Rodriguez in the process. Back in March, I argued contemporary mainstream documentaries seem to be heavily preoccupied with resurrecting exceptional but buried personalities, while mainstream narrative films do the opposite. Christopher Campbell tackled a similar subject in regard to music docs, but placed their appeal in more direct terms: we’re drawn to such docs because they essentially tell a Cinderella Story. It’s clear that films like these are compelling, entertaining, headline-ready, and can often be damned funny (and it doesn’t hurt that they typically have killer soundtracks). But perhaps one of the more interesting, little discussed aspects of these documentaries is what they ultimately say about the huge gaps we take for granted in ways we think about American popular music.


review band called death

Ask the average person on the street to name the city that saw its walls shake with the birth of punk music and odds are they won’t answer “Detroit.” Ask them to name the band who first mashed the raw and the melodic together to create punk music before the term even existed, and they most assuredly won’t say “Death.” And we won’t even bother asking if anyone knew that the forefathers of punk were African American. But thanks to the new revelatory and inspiring documentary A Band Called Death, the truth behind the band’s nearly simultaneous birth and death may yet find them their proper place in music history. There were four Hackney boys growing up in ’70s Detroit, but while the oldest kept himself busy in other ways, his three younger brothers developed a serious interest in music. Bobby, Dannis and David taught themselves bass, drums and guitar, respectively, and then set out to change the sonic landscape. Christened Death by David, their de facto leader, the trio recorded a demo tape only to see door after door shut in their face. For some it was the idea of Black musicians rocking out instead of going the Motown route, but for most it simply came down to the band’s name. As quickly as the flame was lit it was subsequently snuffed out again. But like a phoenix, Death was destined to rise again, and when the internet came calling thirty five years later, what remained of the Hackney boys […]


poster band called death

The past couple years have seen a healthy stream of fantastic documentaries focused on the world of music. More precisely, Searching for Sugar Man, Paul Williams Still Alive and Sound City all entertained and enlightened by offering viewers a glimpse into stories from the past about people that today’s audiences have forgotten. The upcoming Drafthouse Films release, A Band Called Death, aims to do the same by re-introducing the world to a little-known but much respected punk/rock band from the early ’70s. They preceded bands we do remember but were forgotten to the ravages of time. It’s not just their timing that makes them stand out from the Caucasian crowd though… Check out the first trailer for A Band Called Death below.

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published: 01.25.2015
published: 01.25.2015
published: 01.25.2015

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