Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Film Review: Filmage - The Story of Descendents/ALL

Film Rating: A
Music films somehow always manage find an audience, despite their water droplet existence amidst the endless sea of superhero movies, sequels and remakes these days. On the punk end of the spectrum, SLC Punk and Riding in Vans with Boys often come to mind as widely regarded near-perfect visualized staples of the genre, regardless of their usual juvenile, hyperbolized nature. When I first learned of Filmage, a colorful documentary on the history of pop punk legends, Descendents, I thought, if handled properly, it could certainly find its place among these preeminent fundamentals, and after a serendipitous (and crowded) screening a few miles down the road at Motorco in Durham, N.C., all (har har) of my hopes were handily confirmed.

Part informative, part thought provoking and part farts, Filmage boasts a chronological palette about as diverse as can be. There are moments of greatness (lost old footage of a young Milo Aukerman belting out “Myage” to an adoring crowd), darkness (Bill Stevenson’s teary-eyed memories of his unaffectionate father) and pure absurdity (cartoony animations by IMOV Studio of how the name ALL came to be). “Not your typical band story,” claims co-director/producer Deedle LaCour, Filmage does not mythologize the SoCal group, but rather tells the long story of how such nerdy love songs came to be adored by those of the hardcore studded denim jacket ilk—a truly fascinating phenomenon, really.

Being born in the '90s, I never was visually exposed to a pre-Egerton and Alvarez lineup, so many of the essential faces in the Descendents timeline (Frank Navetta, Tony Lombardo, etc) existed only as mysterious credits sprinkled between the lines in the Everything Sucks insert. Filmage does a fantastic job relinquishing this anonymity across the chronology, documenting the seemingly endless convoluted member changes from album to album, and even offering personal interviews from some. A strong indicator of the band’s timelessness, generational industry notables outside of the band such as Dave Grohl, Mark Hoppus, Fat Mike, Joey Cape and others all speak mountains of praise for the band, with Hoppus bashfully admitting how he may or may not have completely ripped off Lombardo’s dirty style of bass playing on Milo Goes to College. Filmage helps you realize Blink-182, NOFX, Less Than Jake and so many other essential modern punk bands would have never existed without the Descendents.

Influence aside, Filmage does attach some noticeably uncharacteristic cynicism and melancholy (separate from that of their traditional heartbreak) to the group, particularly around the time ALL came to be. We watch as Scott Reynolds, one of three lead singers for the band, sits in front of the bar at which he toils daily and darkly admits that his work will always be overshadowed by the more popular counterband. Tony Lombardo mentions in a brief segment how he is still kicking himself for leaving the group, destined to only become a brief blip on the monolithic timeline. We watch young punk rock offspring jump and joy with glee as they assert with ease their preference for the Descendents over ALL. While Filmage doesn’t seek to scold you for neglecting the non-Milo version of the band, it certainly materializes the long-festering jealousy and defeat surrounding the issue and insists, rather than suggests, that taking the time to revisit the ALL discography would be a virtuous cause.

Stevenson’s criminally underreported battle with meningioma comes to serve as an antagonist late into the final act of Filmage, shockingly demonstrating the ever-present passing of time aging these influential musicians. When Stevenson emerges victorious and as happy as ever, though, Filmage sends the Descendents off in style with one of the best feel-good montages in recent memory. Aukerman discusses his desire to continue booking reunion shows, simply as an excuse to hang out with Stevenson and the rest of his longtime friends. Rejuvenated, Stevenson laughs with childlike energy as the final notes of “When I Get Old” usher in the credits.

Filmage treats Descendents in the best possible way: not as rock stars or some larger than life band, but instead as some humble entity that morphed into so much more. No one would have ever guessed that a song like “Hope” could be equally enjoyed by both a crusty Black Flag punk and the thick glasses-wearing nerds in high school, but it was.  The music that is going to live on is that which transcends multiple lifestyles and mindsets and morphs them into something universal, and Descendents will forever be remembered as another essential band that brought such vastly different people together.  Filmage was not made to suggest that the Descendents created pop punk, but rather, demonstrate that the genre as we know it would be nothing like it is today without the looming influence of all those that make up the Descendents.

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