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Bad Brains: A Band in DC

Jonathan Barry takes a look at an interesting documentary…

After the first 40 minutes, store this documentary on the seminal band Bad Brains dispenses with the effusive, thumb and obligatory, shop talking heads section and moves on to a carefully drawn picture of present day tensions, interspersed with anecdotes regarding the band’s development. Both are presented in extremely engaging fashion, the anecdotes are always recounted from the band or their managers, and the idiosyncratic cartoons that accompany them break up the monotony of the endless talking heads that comprise a significant portion of typical music documentaries. Despite the fact that it is made abundantly clear that the crew is not wanted by members of the band during their moments together, the viewer is still privy to the inner machinations of the present day band as the one-to-one interviews detail the rising tensions to the camera as the tour progresses, without ever resorting to an imposing voice-over narration. The climactic moment of their break up is captured on camera, and evokes much more sympathy than a typical ‘rock-star’ squabble as disappointment over compromising artistic integrity is bitterly aired.

However, this film is not without its faults. In the first hour, I counted five different versions of ‘Banned in DC.’ While I was initially surprised that they had a different guitar solo on every version, it soon became grating. This documentary also glossed over the homophobia debacle in their career, which in this film was attributed to a single incident in the ‘80s when in fact it was a view espoused by the entire band for a number of years. This seems a very strange omission considering their public addressing and rejection of these views in the intervening years. However, for fans and others, this is still an engaging documentary regarding a highly influential band’s importance, growth and eventual transition into middle-age, along with the resulting bitterness that accompanies such things.

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