American punk band The Descendents were 15 years ahead of their time. Their combination of machine gun riffs and Beatlesque melodies presaged Green Day by more than a decade and, as Dave Grohl points out, would have made them megastars had their classic albums been released in the 1990’s.
The documentary Filmage: The story of the Descendants/ All charts their tumultuous career across four decades from garage beginnings through constant line-up changes and personal tragedies to their current status as revered punk rock survivors.
Formed amid the glorious chaos of the 1980’s American hard-core punk scene, The Descendents immediately stood out due to their stunning melodies, musical chops and their sense of humour. The Ramones had welded pop tunes to buzz saw guitars at punk’s Big Bang in the 1970’s but they had a defined image with the leather jackets whereas The Descendents were just dishevelled nerds with a bona fide science geek (the magnificent Milo Aukerman) out front.
Touring relentlessly, The Descendents forged a remarkable live reputation for their impassioned, musically tight but physically chaotic shows, some of which are captured in rough-as-guts, 30-year-old footage here.
The band also cut classic albums including the one described as their Sergeant Peppers, 1982’s Milo goes to college. The problem for the band was that lead singer Milo Aukerman really did go to college to study microbiology and in the late 80’s decided to pursue a career in science rather than punk. Rebranding as All the band struggled to find a coherent identity, settled line-up or the popularity of The Descendents, despite producing some sensational albums. After decades in the music business the band found themselves struggling to survive and were often forced to camp out on friends’ couches.
American post-punk legends like Mike Watt and superstars like Dave Grohl and Mark Hoppus from Blink 182 pay homage to the huge influence The Descendents had on them and just about every hard-rocking melodic band that came after them. Still, we might have expected a few more testimonials from 80’s hard-core punk luminaries and from the most obvious inheritor of The Descendent’s legacy, Green Day, who are strangely absent here.
The film explores the personalities of each band member but at the centre of the sonic storm is drummer and founder Bill Stevenson. Built like a line-backer and possessed of a phenomenal work ethic, Bill is inspiring, funny and at times very moving. The Descendents story is inextricably tied to his unquenchable desire to make The Descendents and later All the bands he had always dreamed about.
For Descendents/ All fans this is essential viewing and for the curious, there are enough great tracks featured here to have them searching out a new avenue of punk rock history.
Nick’s rating: Four stars.
Classification: Unclassified 18+.
Director(s): Deedle Lacour, Matt Riggle
Release date: Screened at MIFF on Wed 31st July and Sat 3rd Aug 2013
Running time: 90 mins.