New documentary “Bastards of Soul” captures a Dallas band on the brink

A still from director Paul Levatino’s 2024 documentary “Bastards of Soul.” Photo: 7:37 Films

There is an undeniable weight to Paul Levatino’s directorial debut, Bastards of Soul. How could there not be?

The 81-minute film, which will have its Texas premiere Saturday at the Texas Theatre, as part of this year’s Dallas International Film Festival, chronicles the fleeting ascent and heartbreaking disintegration of the beloved North Texas band Bastards of Soul, a high-voltage collective anchored by the dynamic presence of front man and co-songwriter Chadwick Murray.

Murray died at the cruelly young age of 45 in September 2021, leaving behind his wife, Hannah, and their newborn son, Lennox, to whom the film is dedicated.

Yet, for all of the melancholy inherent in the story, there is just as much — if not more — joy.

Bastards of Soul began life as a potential promotional piece for a then-forthcoming single release. It captures glimpses of the creative sparks generated by a handful of sublimely talented musicians feeding off one another during what would be the band’s final recording session, in July 2021, at Matt Pence’s Echo Lab in Argyle, while also documenting Murray’s evolution into a charismatic lead singer. (You can see footage from Levatino’s film in the video for “You Let Me Down Again” below.)

“When I started looking at the footage, I started realizing we had a story about a band that was on the brink, and every single one of them had a dream,” Levatino said during a recent conversation. “This one front man was totally unexpected — he didn’t even think he was going to be a front man.

“I think it’s interesting for anybody who watches it that’s an artist because you never know when you’re going to have to step … to the edge of that stage so everybody can see you.”

Levatino worked with directors of photography Jeremy Word and Zack Tzourtzouklis, who also edited and co-produced the film. He gives viewers a fly-on-the-wall experience, bringing them inside the band’s camaraderie, but also its creative process. (Levatino said his intimate approach was informed, in part, by Lady Gaga’s 2017 raw, acclaimed documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two.)

Bastards of Soul is also punctuated with some gorgeous concert footage which die-hard fans of the band may not immediately recognize. Prior to Murray’s death, Levatino filmed the group performing at the Kessler Theater, and this documentary marks the first public release of some of that footage — showcasing Murray, resplendent in a sharp suit and working the stage like a seasoned pro, in all his performative glory.

“He just went for it,” Levatino said. “It was kind of like what he did throughout his life. If you look at it towards the end of his life, he was doing it with his son; he did it with getting married. We had been talking about him quitting his job … we had opened shows for Black Pumas and Kamasi Washington, and I was getting some buzz about getting them on the road.

“Then [his death] just happened. But at least he went for it, you know what I mean? He left that legacy behind.”

Indeed, there is an unspoken sense within Bastards of Soul Murray understands exactly what he’s accomplished. “I don’t know if I could be filled with more gratitude,” he says in the film, less than two months before his passing.

Viewers will also feel deeply fortunate — via Levatino’s thoughtful, powerful documentary — to either become newly acquainted with the Bastards of Soul, fall in love with the band all over again, or take one more chance to mourn what might have been.

Bastards of Soul Texas premiere at Texas Theatre, Dallas. 6 p.m. April 27. Tickets are $10-$15.

Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on X (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.