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

Review: 'A Band Called Death' documentary whips up inspiration
Death band members and brothers, David Hackney, Bobby Hackney Sr and Dannis Hackney from "A Band Called Death." (Courtesy of Drafthouse Films)

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.

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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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