The mother of all pop-punk bands is paid due tribute in “Filmage: The Story of Descendents/All,” which chronicles the very winding road traveled for nearly four decades by Bill Stevenson and his long-running, overlapping outfits Descendents and All. As younger musicians here attest, many a better-known act might well never have existed without these pioneering units’ influence, and Matt Riggle and Deedle LaCour’s docu captures their enduring appeal. Pic, which has been playing fests, clubs and other one-off shows over the last 15 months, makes its official theatrical debut with a run at Los Angeles’ Downtown Independent starting Sept. 26. VOD release follows immediately, Blu-ray/DVD later this fall. Punk rock fans with any sense of history should make it a popular niche item.
Descendents first formed among three Southern California teenagers who’d bonded over fishing in 1977 Hermosa Beach, then became a quartet with the addition of bassist Tony Lombardo, who was 20 years older but looked (and still looks) much younger. Milo Aukerman transitioned from a faithful observer at practices to the distinctively bespectacled, dweeby lead singer of a band that never bothered dressing the punk-rock part. (His quintessential nerd visage in line-drawing cartoon form became their visual trademark.) Their first full-length recording, “Milo Goes to College” (1982), was a revelation that bucked a lot of then-standard punk conventions: It was fast and loud, but also catchily melodic, very tightly played, and at times nakedly emotional rather than snarky or political in its lyrics.
Aukerman, however, always saw music as a “fun” digression from his true path in science. When he left for the first time in 1982 to pursue his studies, Descendents fell apart. Stevenson (always their driving force, though other members also contributed songs) spent interim time in a subsidiary role drumming for the established L.A. hardcore unit Black Flag. Aukerman was ready to sign on again in 1985, but only for a year, by which point Salt Lake City best buds Karl Alvarez and Stephen Egerton became the unit’s new, permanent bassist and guitarist. Stevenson decided the remaining post-Milo trio needed a new identity, choosing the vague “All” as moniker.
But Descendents fans loyal to the whole “Milo” image were prickly about giving equal appreciation to All, which put out numerous strong records in a similar mode. Partly due to resulting ongoing financial hardships, as well as Stevenson’s workaholic perfectionism, several talented lead singers came and went over subsequent years — that is, when Aukerman wasn’t returning for yet another Descendents reunion. These days, Descendents are rightly greeted as punk legends by audiences raised on bands who acknowledge their heavy indebtedness. Interviewed here are many such musicians including personnel from Foo Fighters, Blink-182, Pennywise and so forth.
The final half-hour breaks from this tangled history to focus on Stevenson himself, both as the bands’ consistent dominating force and as a near-miraculous survivor of some very serious health threats in recent years. There’s plenty of archival interview and concert footage here, in addition to that shot by the directing duo, edited together into a package as tight and ingratiating as the music itself — of which there is, naturally, a ton soundtracked.