Filmage: The Story of Descendents/All: Theatrical

Sep 19, 2013

A slick and thorough documentary about a very important band and its underappreciated brother(poor All!), Filmage does a great job in covering every musical endeavour of Bill Stevenson in all their different permutations (including his stint in Black Flag).

Descendents formed in 1977 with Frank Navetta on guitar, Tony Lombardo on bass, and Stevenson on drums. After recruiting Milo Aukerman as vocalist a couple of years later, the band became a fixture in the Los Angeles scene with their pop punk sound which inspired many generations of musicians. Stevenson formed All during Aukerman’s absences at college, a band basically the same as the Descendents but with a different singer. Both bands continue to perform and record sporadically to this day.

With such a long history and numerous line-up changes (family tree graphics were used to keep the audience up to speed as the story progressed) plenty of interesting facts emerged. Did you know that Keith (Circle Jerks) Morris’s dad owned a fishing tackle store that Stevenson frequented as a boy? I certainly didn’t and being on the other side of the world (pre-internet) I was also unaware of the hostility towards All. Even an obsessive fan is likely to learn something new.

Each new member to the fold was given a separate introduction like a new chapter in a book and allowed to describe their induction into this world. Being the constant figure in the entire tale, Stevenson had an extended segment devoted to him towards the end that exposed what it is that makes this powerhouse tick. A revelation about the relationship he had with his father gave a plausible reason behind his obsessive and perfectionist behavior towards music.

It seemed as though every punk musician and their dog were featured in the interview segments which compiled the wisdom of over fifty subjects. Contemporaries such as Chuck Dukowski (Black Flag) and Brett Gurewitz (Bad Religion) told tales from the early days while younger performers expressed their admiration and talked of All blowing them off the stage. The inclusion of vox pops with fans at recent shows gave a nice contrast to the words of praise from those in the music biz. It allowed the exploration of the way the bands spoke to their teenage fans, with all their angst of fitting in, as separate from the musical influence mentioned by everyone else.

Plenty of live footage was used between talking heads, so much so that it gave the illusion that the early days of the Descendents was extensively documented on camera. Footage from the same few shows was reused liberally, so they certainly couldn’t match the chronology of the film, but the songs themselves were perfect punctuation marks. Some clips displayed the song lyrics to emphasise points in the story as well as give some kind of background to these words.This was evident in scathing lyrics to songs such as “I’m Not a Loser” and “Parents,” contributed by Navetta and fuelled by an unhappy family home.

Fast editing featured throughout most sections of the film which stopped short of being overwhelming. It suited these highly caffeinated and energetic subjects. Save for a few sombre moments such as Bill’s illness where gentle music provided an appropriate background, the soundtrack pumped with the extensive back catalogues of both bands.

Fans will have already booked tickets to a nearby screening / impatiently begun the wait for the inevitable DVD, but even those with a passing interest in the band will get a lot from this film. –Colin Flaherty (Matt Riggle & Deedle LaCour,