The Descendents’ legacy explored in new documentary
When it comes to their Descendents doc Filmage we applaud directors Matt Riggle and Deedle Lacour: They didn’t take the path of least resistance. They could’ve focused on the band’s iconic singer Milo Auckerman whose crude illustrated face is scrawled on thousands of high-school binders adorns coffee mugs and Christmas sweaters and is tattooed on countless Bridge 9 message board users. They could’ve focused on the band’s most pivotal albums — arguably they’re Milo Goes to College and ’90s comeback Everything Sucks . They could’ve focused on the band’s legacy and the punk-rock tropes they spawned: an obsession with coffee fast food and biking.
They could’ve. But there’s an even better story to be told. Riggle had begun formulating ideas for the film as far back as 2004 when he visited guitarist Stephen Egerton at his studio in Tulsa Okla. “The band has a 30-something year career and when you go to make a movie about it you have to have a roadmap a story to tell” says Riggle. “From the beginning I said that we don’t want to do a ‘ Behind the Music’ on the Descendents. It was finding the story about the band.”
Which means that each member in the Descendents family — from founding guitarist Frank Navetta to Dag Nasty’s Dave Smalley to current bassist Karl Alvarez — gets time on camera resulting in an even-handed near-journalistic documentary. As does each album: Intertwined between archival footage a star-studded supporting cast of Dave Grohl Mark Hoppus and Tim McIlrath spouts adoration for nearly every Descendents offering from Enjoy! to ‘Merican .
“Each interview just led to more interviews. We wanted to talk to people from different eras” says Riggle. “We didn’t just want to have token talking heads like some docs. I mean we have Mike Watt [of the Minutemen] in there but he put out the first couple Descendents records. And after talking to the band they recommended some names like Joe Nolte from The Last.”
“It was so cool to go through it all and meet all these characters. Everyone who had anything to do with the band is weird quirky strange and well-spoken.”
But for all the twists and turns the doc takes — including a brief but completely worthwhile foray into Black Flag’s history — an unlikely hero emerges: Stocky drummer Bill Stevenson the only consistent member of the Descendents since they formed in 1978 (Auckerman would join in 1980). If Auckerman’s the face of the band Stevenson might very well be its glue.
“Bill Stevenson is such a unique personality. The film starts out and you meet this fat kid who’s into music then he starts a band then he joins Black Flag. He gets serious he becomes a workaholic. But through it you get to know what he’s really made of. It’s inspiring to see someone who never quits.”
Which brings us to the most contentious issue surrounding the Descendents: All the band that forms whenever Auckerman decides to focus on his day job (and ultimate passion) in academia. All — which has rotated through singers — often draws the ire of Descendents fans and many point to the project as the low point of Stevenson’s career. Mild spoiler alert: Riggle’s no elitist and All is very much a part of Filmage .
Riggle for his part never understood the hostility towards the band. “I was always the guy who was like ‘Why don’t you like All?’” he says. “I actually got into All first I found the Percolator record and backtracked. From my point of view it was part of our goal to get some [of the people involved in All] recognized.”
Mission accomplished. So we ask Riggle after years of research on the Descendents can he even listen to the band anymore? “Well three days ago I was blasting Everything Sucks in my car” he says with a laugh. “I have a much deeper connection to their music now. As a fan of the band you think that you know the guys intimately because of their lyrics. They’re such personal songs.
“I thought I knew the guys before I did the documentary and turns out I was right.”
FILMAGE screens on Wednesday February 26 at the Plaza with a performance from Racket.