This incredibly charming documentary follows the career and exploits of pop-punk pioneers Descendents and All, a band formed by Descendents members Bill Stevenson, Karl Alvarez, and Stephen Egerton when frontman Milo Aukerman left the band to pursue his PhD in biochemistry.
The Descendents are kind of an anomaly when it comes to the territory of punk documentaries – they still exist as a band, for one thing (All does too) and their career, for the most part, hasn’t been marred by drug or alcohol abuse, major acrimony or tragedy. While these things are all obviously terrible, they tend to make interesting film fodder (i.e. the Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo or Julien Temple’s Sex Pistols doc The Filth and the Fury.) My one worry upon starting this film was that the Descendent’s story might come across as a little bland in the wrong hands (and it’s anything but). Thankfully, co-directors Deedle LaCour and Matt Riggle keep the pace of the film zipping along, and they’re able to bring out enough of their subjects’ charming humanity that the viewer’s attention never wanders.
Filmage follows a more-or-less chronological order, tracking the beginnings of the Descendents in Manhattan Beach, California as raw, impassioned young dudes who play guitar so hard that their pants fall down (in the case of then-guitarist Frank Navetta) and track the fateful inclusion of the nerdy, studious Aukerman, who has since gone down in history as one of the most beloved “anti-frontmen” of punk rock. The film also does a great job of establishing the type of band the Descendents are – rather than singing about ideological angst, their songs were built on the authentic expression of emotions, played by musicians who looked like geeks, not punks, and more importantly didn’t succumb to aggro posturing to get their voices heard. This is one of the many reasons that the iconic drawing of Aukerman (first featured on the album cover of 1982’s seminal Milo Goes to College) is so emblematic of not only a nostalgic, warm ethos, but a time, a place, and a spirit.
From there things get a little dizzying, with LaCour and Riggle tracing Aukerman’s initial departure from the band to study his first passion, science, the departure and inclusion of multiple members, the formation of the never-quite-as-successful All, Aukerman’s return, endless touring, drummer Bill Stevenson’s gradual move towards producing and his amazing recovery from a massive golf-ball-sized brain tumor. Interspersed between band interviews is commentary from the ever-ubiquitious Dave Grohl, Fat Mike, that guy from Blink 182 (I don’t have the time to look up his name, and I don’t really like Blink 182, sorry!) and a bunch of other notable human beings, as well as some funny Beavis and Butthead-style animations, many of which are fart-related.
Through it all, the directors (who also play in a pop-punk band themselves, and are clearly ardent fans of both bands) let the story unfold through its amazing characters, particularly Aukerman, who exudes a warm and brilliant magnetism, and Stevenson, who is described as having “the brain of the mathematician in the body of a caveman.” Above all else, the band’s close, respectful and even loving relationship comes through in spades, and it’s this obvious warmth that truly gives Filmage its heart. (Alison Lang)
Filmage enjoys its world premiere at NXNE on Saturday June 15, at 1pm at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West).