For the 2013 New Zealand International Film Festival I figured I’d try and keep some kind of a review diary covering each of the 20 or so films I’m planning to see. It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks.
I have been listening to punk rock music for almost 20 years, and I thought had a decent grasp on the origins of the genre. Spurred on by apathy towards the self-indulgent rock scene of the 70s, bands like The Ramones, Television, and Blondie started a underground movement which the Sex Pistols would soon vomit into the headlines, and the rest was history.
A Band Called Death is here to call into question everything that I thought I knew about the origins of punk music. Long forgotten (although they were only ever known by a few), Death predate The Ramones by at least a couple of years, and at a time when Led Zeppelin and Roger Emerson were destroying rock music with nine minute long solos and songs about wizards and fairies and Christ knows what, in Detroit three young black brothers were creating some of the most innovative rock and roll in years.
I’m not going to hide that fact that for me, as a punk fan, A Band Called Death is a kind of Rosetta Stone. The film documents a missing, vital piece of punk rock history that was unearthed in an attic in 2008, some 33 years after being recorded, a piece that previously was little more than a whisper among hardcore collectors.
However, the story of the three brothers is so much more than a punk story, and really the music itself plays a only minor part. What A Band Called Death delivers is a tale of faith, family, and a tortured, uncompromising musical visionary who went to his grave unrecognised and unknown. The Hackney family are a joy to learn about, but there’s an element of great sadness as there always is when a powerful talent passes far too soon.
For punk rock fans, A Band Called Death is essential viewing, if only to introduce the phenomenal music these three brothers created, but even those who aren’t interested in the music of Death should seek this out. I’ve already heard it called this year’s Searching for Sugarman (which isn’t an entirely incorrect comparison), but if anything A Band Called Death has a stronger story without the schmaltzy tone, and the music is more important for its innovation.