Drafthouse Films’ current release A Band Called Death is a documentary 40 years in the making. It chronicles the incredibly fairy-tale journey of what happened almost three decades later, when a dusty 1974 demo tape of three black brother's punk-before-punk band made its way from the attic to the admiration of an audience several generations younger. Playing music almost impossibly ahead of its time, Death is now being credited as the first black punk band (hell...the first punk band!), and are finally receiving their long overdue recognition as true rock pioneers. The film is currently available to watch on iTunes, OnDemand platforms and via the official website.
In celebration of its theatrical release beginning on June 28, we decided to poll friends and fellow film programmers on their rock doc favorites to watch in companion with Death. Alongside the usual rockumentary staples Gimmie Shelter, Decline Of The Western Civilization, or even contempories like Anvil! The Story Of Anvil, we recomend giving these films a needle drop. And play them LOUD.
Urgh! A Music War (1981). Dramatic. Ridiculous. Manically charged. Churning. Charming. Awkward. Unpredictable. Alchemic. Sweat-soaked. Funny. Goofy. Rad. Simply one of the world’s greatest mixtapes. This legendary 1980 concert film is a Woodstock-ian presentation of the era’s cutting-edge post-punk and synthpop: Devo, Dead Kennedys, X, The Cramps, Oingo Boingo, Gang of Four, The Police, Wall of Voodoo, Pere Ubu, Magazine and more. Rarely were these bands afforded the full, lavish 35mm film shoot treatment; Urgh! remains a close-up peek at some of the most furious underground groups of the era at the peak of their powers. –The Cinefamily, Los Angeles. Buy on Amazon.
Driver 23 & The Atlas Moth (2002). Real life is the enemy of all hopes and ambitions. Dan Cleveland, a Minneapolis delivery driver by day and indomitable leader of nearly unlistenable metal band Dark Horse by night, is obsessed by a dream of metal glory and possessed by ambitions that border on delusion. Real life does not approve. Battling an overwhelming strain of obsessive compulsive disorder, Cleveland fights an unending war against the universe, against his departing bandmates and wife, against his lack of musical ability, and against a stupidly complex (and ultimately futile) pulley system for bringing his equipment up from his basement. Across both Driver 23 acnd its sequel The Atlas Moth, filmmaker Rolf Belgum captures the ridiculous, heroic and pathetic qualities that explode out of Cleveland as he follows his quixotic mission, ultimately delivering a fully formed portrait of a semi-tragic man who refuses acknowledge the limitations of real life. –Tommy Swenson, Alamo Drafthouse Programmer. Buy on Amazon.
Another State Of Mind (1984). “Punk is misunderstood,” opens Shawn Stern of Better Youth Organization, who then succinctly lays out what the movement means and its origins in teenage frustration. Named for a Social Distortion song, Another State of Mind debuted at LA’s Beverly Cinema, where Tony Cadena of the Adolescents assaulted the projector and ruined the screening; a perfect clincher to one of the most epic struggles in documented punk history –Zack Carlson, Author "Destroy All Movies!!!". Watch on iTunes.
Last Days Here (2012). After a crushing run of 3 or 4 years when every music doc seemed to be about some doomed genius who died insane and unappreciated in a sewer somewhere, this one came as a welcome surprise. Last Days Here begins with Pentagram singer Bobby Liebling furiously upending couch cushions in his parent's basement in search of lost crack pebbles but it's all refreshingly uphill from there. This is one of my favorite movies the decade and it sent me into a Pentagram-mania that, like Liebling, will never die. –Lars Nilsen, Austin Film Society. Watch on iTunes.
The Last Waltz (1978). While The Band was much more popular than Death, they're still among the most underrated groups in rock history. But while they never quite got the mainstream attention they deserved, The Band was beloved by other artists, and their farewell concert - called The Last Waltz - is filled with guest appearances by some of the greatest musicians of the 1970s. Add in the fact that Martin Scorsese shot the film with absolute style and beauty and The Last Waltz is a wonderful tribute to the idea that being the best doesn't always mean being the biggest. –Devin Faraci, Badass In Chief. Buy on Amazon.
Kiss Meets The Phatom Of The Park (1978). Documentaries about rock musicians usually focus on decadent excess, regret, and a cathartic self-discovery. But they leave out the human moments, like when grown men shoot lasers from their eyes and blow up their robot doppelgängers. This movie rectifies that problem. It's dumb, empty, and places KISS in situations that make them look like total buffoons. In other words, it's the most revealing rock 'n' roll documentary ever made. –Joe Ziemba, Alamo Drafthouse Programmer. Buy on Ebay.
Journey - Frontiers And Beyond (1983). Following the band at the peak of power during the conception, construction and execution of their 1983 US tour, Frontiers and Beyond is equal parts raging rock & roll and blue collar muscle. Paying close attention to the behind the scenes crew of roadies, carpenters and madmen, this is finally the film for people as impressed with monumental, state-of-the-art stage craft as well as the band performing. From the team behind NFL Films! –Phil Blankenship, Heavy Hitter Midnights. Watch on YouTube.
AC/DC: Let There Be Rock (1980). Bathed in colors as vibrant as an adolescent acid trip, their amps stacked skyward and blaringly loud, stands the scruffy supergroup AC/DC. In front of them, thousands of rock-enthralled Parisians, banging their heads into oblivion and offering up cigarette lighters in tribute to these Aussie Gods of Riffery. Let There Be Rock is a megavolt surge of pure, testosterone-pumped, bell-bottomed bliss that will keep your toe tapping ‘til it turns black. –The Cinefamily, Los Angeles. Buy on Amazon.
Heavy Metal Parking Lot (1986). One of the greatest recorded testaments of rabid fandom out there, Jeff Krulik and Jeff Heyn’s Heavy Metal Parking Lot is a vivid time capsule of the golden age of heavy metal in America. More anthropological study than expose, the film follows a barrage of screaming, denim-clad metalheads tailgating outside a Judas Priest concert in 1986. The film runs an all-too brief 17 mins and made its initial rounds as an aggressively bootlegged pre-internet viral sensation over 25 years ago. Duped, traded and screened by roadies on tour buses across the globe, has since earned an army of cult film devotees decades later. –Evan Husney, creative director Drafthouse Films. Buy on Amazon.
Do you have a favorite rock doc? Leave it in the comments below!