I recently lamented that the music-based documentary Boom! A Film About The Sonics told a story not worth discussing. That film did not have any stakes or sense of urgency. A band made a decent splash regional but never broke into the big time. Why does that matter? It does not. As if the universe was seeking to rectify itself, Rise: The Story Of Augustines comes along. This emotional exhausting yet uplifting documentary details how William McCarthy and Eric Sanderson formed Augustines. The indie alternative rock band later amended their name to We Are Augustines, but shortened it back to Augustines after a brief spell. Understanding why the creation and success of the band are important, the audience must first learn the tragic backstory of singer McCarthy.
As a child, McCarthy and his brother younger brother James lived with their mother. Due to her schizophrenia, among other mental health issues, she was not taking proper care of the children. This left McCarthy at 9-years-old to feed himself and his brother and take care of the house as best he could. The toll this took on McCarthy left a deep emotional well. As he was growing up, this well manifested in various artistic ways.
“…emotional exhausting yet uplifting documentary details how William McCarthy and Eric Sanderson formed Augustines.”
After a chance encounter with busker Eric Sanderson and McCarthy’s high school friend/ bandmate Christopher Herb up and leaving the country, Pela was formed. Despite widespread acclaim and decent success roadblocks soon came to light. A shady manager meant the band was in a tremendous amount of debt after recording their album. Of much greater significance is the untimely passing of James, a suicide victim.
This proved too much for anyone, especially McCarthy to handle. Thusly, Pela disbanded. However, there was still a need to perform music gnawing away at both McCarthy and Sanderson. So, they formed Augustines in 2010. The group’s albums dealt with the turmoil, both personal and professional, stemming from William McCarthy’s life. As a live band, the Augustines are famed for their audience interactions and emotional resonance.
“As a live band, the Augustines are famed for their audience interactions and emotional resonance.”
Director Todd Howe keeps the timeline for Rise: The Story Of Augustines in a linear fashion, more or less. This allows the viewer to understand and empathize with McCarthy on a deep level. During an interview, William McCarthy talks about how James was becoming increasingly erratic. James moved in with his brother, and his brother’s significant other, in New York City. Then one random day, James threatened everyone living under that roof. Though it broke his heart, McCarthy kicked his brother out of their home. The viewer vividly feels that dismay and frustration.
The editing by Howe and Joey Bicicchi is sublime. The documentary weaves in and out of interviews, footage of the band playing live, as well as some behind the scenes (or made candid is a better term) video from various recording sessions seamlessly. There is a great and natural rhythm to how everything in the movie flows together.
I have seen numerous musical documentaries, and I can confidently state that Rise: The Story Of Augustines is one of the best in a long time. I would go so far as to put it near the likes of The Last Waltz in terms of both the emotional journey and filmmaking prowess on display.
Rise: The Story Of Augustines (2019) Directed by Todd Howe. Starring William McCarthy, Eric Sanderson, John Schaefer, John Richards, Robert Allen.
10 out of 10 Microphones