Descendents are, rightfully, credited with creating pop punk as we know it, from the dressed-down T-shirts-and-glasses aesthetic to the heart-on-the-sleeve emotional forthrightness and the deceptively simple song structures. (You go ahead and write something as memorable and timeless as “I Like Food” and “Suburban Home.” I’ll wait.) But the film goes way beyond the easy route of licking Descendents’ boots for 90 minutes. The main thread follows Bill Stevenson, the charismatic and quirky drummer who’s been an anchor for Descendents, Black Flag and All.
There’s some heavy subject matter, from band breakups to abusive parents to brain tumors. But Filmage is full of hilarious lines, eye-catching graphics and goofy animated bits, as is quite fitting for a portrayal of a genre of music that doesn’t take itself seriously. Stevenson and his rotating cast of bandmates all come across as just as likable and approachable. Almost all of the heavy hitters of punk and rock offer sound bites, from Dave Grohl to Mark Hoppus to Fat Mike to Joey Cape. (At one point, Dave Grohl casually mentions that he understands that it’s hard to start a new project after being in a really popular band. It’s a great moment.)
Attending a screening of Filmage is almost an experience in itself, because it brings out dedicated fans. When I saw it recently as part of Fest 12 in Gainesville, Fla., the room of hungover punks instinctively head-bobbed and foot-tapped through the entire film. Plenty of the festival headliners—musicians who will get their own documentaries made about them someday—were in attendance. Mikey Erg (The Ergs, The Dopamines) was a few rows ahead of me.
This is part and parcel of the appeal of pop punk. It’s a place where even venerated musicians are still just regular people, guys you can sit behind at a film screening. And that’s a small part of why one can get really invested in punk; come for the catchy songs, stay for the close-knit community of ridiculous and amazing people.-Kate Whittle