Directed by: #ToddHowe
Unvarnished, inspiring and heart achingly beautiful, Todd Howe’s lovingly delivered musical documentary RISE: The Story of Augustines is a tender tale of artistic struggle that pays tribute to the gnarly hardships that frontman William McCarthy endured. Told through his interviews and the familial recollections of McCarthy’s bandmates (Eric Sanderson, Robert Allen) and those who knew him and/or his brother James, the audience gets a VIP front row ticket to pure, life-affirming tragedy.
Formal known as Pela, and then We Are Augustines, Augustines were/are a vibrant #indie rock band from Brooklyn, whose journey through the music industry was marred by false prophets, financial handicaps, and McCarthy’s personal devastation. His younger brother, James, was a drug addict who committed suicide in jail. The band’s cataclysm (artistically and emotionally) becomes the central point for Howe’s documentary, as James’ ghostlike presence shadows the life of Bill (as he is known) and those around him.
Far from being the special feature on an Augustine’s record, RISE: The Story of Augustines has a serious amount of impact cinematically. Yes, the musical docu/#biopic trappings are all there (live performance footage, montages, talking heads) but the orchestration of the elements is so powerful that the sorrowful story of Bill and his brother is able to emerge with maximum impact.
The result is a documentary that reverberates through the viewer’s soul, asking them to contemplate the meaning of love, life, and music.
Howe, coming from a musical background himself (see the wonderful back catalogue of The Boxer Rebellion albums which he played guitar on), is able to find the nuances in what the others are saying about Bill, and how this would have impacted someone with a musician’s brain. The crushing impact of James’ death was felt not only by his sibling, but those who were close to Bill. Eric (the band’s multi instrumentalist) recalls a period where his future as a musician seemed to have been swept away from him, his loss of identity becoming a cruel side-effect of life’s nastiness.
There is also an interesting idea about the delicate balance between artistic truth and the exploitation of someone else's misery, with Bill unsure whether he could record the anguish inside of him in case he was seen as exploiting his brother.
The film utilises a plethora of performances where McCarthy’s huge presence, stage trashing and growling vocals contribute to this sense of raw suffering he experiences. The movie does become a showcase of the band’s great musical material, and with Howe even featuring within the film, it’s not possible to say that this is an impartial take on the journey (rarely are musical documentaries unbiased) but there is an undeniable authenticity to the piece that transcends the typically granular dissection of a band’s history and immerses its viewer in something far more meaningful and moving.
His technical precision and penchant for layered, devastating storytelling mark him as a cinematic standout for the future but this is McCarthy’s show through and through. The crushing effect of seeing so much of one person’s bludgeoned soul and his candid revelations makes this a most memorable and transfixing watch.
Watch the movie trailer for RISE: The Story of Augustines below.