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Florida Film Fest review: BAD BRAINS: A BAND IN DC

April 3, 2013



If it weren’t for the foreshadowing moments at the very beginning of this film, in which bassist Darryl Jennifer has it out with Bad Brains’ infamously erratic “throat,” HR, you could spend much of this music doc thinking that the filmmakers were going to gloss over the stuff that makes the Bad Brains story so much more than just another tale of a band that struggled for recognition.

The first half of the movie lays the groundwork for who Bad Brains are, through interviews with punk and hardcore legends (Henry Rollins, Ian Mackaye), friends and colleagues of the band, and old footage from punk clubs. A bit more than halfway through, though, the film hits its stride, taking the audience along on the wild ride Bad Brains took on the journey from being the crushing young punk band that influenced a generation to a reggae-inspired hardcore band dedicated to their Rastafarian message. Band members openly discuss getting thrown out of England for failing to travel with the right visas, panhandling, selling loose joints so they’d have enough cash to make ends meet and the disappointments and frustrations of riding the line between fame and, sometimes, ignominy.

Of course, no Bad Brains movie would be complete without an examination of the oddball personality who’s often been at the center of the band’s failures and fortunes alike: HR. The soft-spoken, peace-loving character has a darker side that can be as virulent and petulant as it can be influential and fascinating. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that not only is HR addicted to Bad Brains, the band simply cannot thrive without him. As the band members agree by the end of the film, Bad Brains are at their best when all of the founding members are working together.

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Fans of Bad Brains probably won’t learn a lot of historical detail they didn’t already know from this film, but if you’ve ever wondered about some of the trials and tribulations the band has been through, this movie provides a bit of insight. One (pretty major) quibble: too much focus on the drama, not enough on the old Bad Brains footage. As a result, the film is more about the personalities than the music. And that’s sort of a shame.


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