By Elise Thompson
The Los Angeles Beat
I have seen my fair share of music documentaries, and possibly your share too. “Filmage: the Story of Descendents/All,” follows the usual pattern of live footage interspersed with interviews and stills. Graphics are used creatively to help the audience keep up with the bands’ rapidly-changing lineup. They manage to both solve the problem of missing footage and up the entertainment value by enlivening amusing anecdotes with custom animation. The story of how the concept of ALL came to be is one of the funniest cartoons you will ever see.
The storyline is primarily chronological with commentators well-chosen to illustrate each era. Keith Morris and Mike Watt were there at the beginning, and 90s pop punks later elaborate on the bands’ influence on them. There is much discussion about everything that set the Descendents apart from other punk bands, especially their choice to sing tortured love songs instead of anthems to anarchy, as well as proudly flying their nerd flag.
If this film were a book, one chapter would be titled, “Why isn’t ALL as popular as the Descendents?” Yes, Milo connects with the audience, yes, people are nostalgic for early 80s punk, but no one can quite put their finger on ALL’s struggle to escape from the Descendents’ shadow. The band knows. What seemed to be a dirty little secret turns out to be everyone’s not-so-secret mystery. What it finally comes down to is Bill Stevenson’s proclamation that ALL is the band that is guilty of not being the Descendents.
One conundrum with music documentaries is whether to play an entire song and risk boring the audience or cut songs off, risking pissing off the die-hard fans. Filmakers Deedle Lacour and Matt Riggle took a subtle approach, turning down the volume and allowing the song to finish playing in the background of the following interview. It was also evident that care was taken in the selection of songs, which were not only chronological but matched the storyline. As the ever-fickle Milo discusses the first time he left the band you can hear him crooning in the background, “Don’t want to sing yesterday’s love songs.”
They manage to match the humor of the band with clever edits that make the most of funny pictures and humorous commentary. They do manage to capture a lot of both accidental and intentional humor, as well as the charm and likeability of the power behind the throne, Bill Stevenson.
As one would expect with a documentary that spans an entire lifetime, there has to be both bathos and pathos. The story takes a sobering turn, and at some point you realize the movie you are watching is actually “Filmage: The Story of Bill Stevenson.” This film takes you on a journey with Stevenson; you share his struggles and his triumphs. “Filmage” achieves what few rock docs can – it makes you feel something. As Bill Stevenson puts it, “I want to write about what really matters.” And he holds his palm against his chest to emphasize that what really matters to him is heart.
Read John Collinson’s review of Filmage
FILMAGE: BONUS CUT includes 50 minutes of footage that didn’t make it into the film. The bonus material is just as tightly edited as the movie. It was cut only because no one can sit through a 140 minute documentary. We get more live footage of band members Dave Smalley, Catholic boy Ray Cooper, and Doug “Incest Cattle” Carrion. Extras include outtakes, a longer interview with Karl Alvarez, and footage of the band contemplating the troubled life and sudden death of founding member Frank Navetta. The ending is kind of awkward, but how do you bookend a tragedy?
THE LOMBARDO SHORT spends 11 minutes focusing on the Descendent’s original bassist, Tony Lombardo. He discusses his reasons for and regrets about leaving the band. You also get a peek at his very own suburban home.
THE STEVENSON MONOLOGUES is a 10 minute collection of topic-specific snippets. Besides erudite musings on subjects like punk rock and religion, Bill elucidates the intricacies of songwriting.
FILMAGE LIVEAGE For 8 minutes Descendents rock the Fillmore. Live footage of the band shot and edited especially for the film. The video and sound quality are perfect, as you would expect. Crowd pleasers include “Bikeage” and “Loser,” in which they have admirably changed the homophobic lyric to “You’re so disco.”
FILMAGE Official Trailer (see the top of this post)
HD Digital copies are available now with the option of additional bonus footage and merch. You can also view “Filmage” without the bonus footage on services like Amazon Prime, iTunes and Google Play. The DVD can be pre-ordered now and will ship December 2nd. Order now.