DIG! (director/writer: Ondi Timoner; cinematographers: Ms. Timoner/Vasco Lucas Nunes/David Timoner; editor: Ondi Timoner; cast: Courtney Taylor (Narrator); The Brian Jonestown Massacre: Anton Newcombe, Joel, Gion, Matt Hollywood, Peter Hayes, Jeff Davies, Dean Taylor and Brad Artley; The Dandy Warhols: Courtney Taylor, Zia McCabe, Peter Holstrom, Eric Hedford and Brent DeBoer; and Bob Newcombe, David LaChapelle, Sophie, David Deresinski, Michael Dutcher, Patsy Latschea; Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ondi Timoner; Palm Pictures; 2004)
“I had my fill with both band leaders stroking their own egos and calling themselves artists.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A cinéma vérité rock ‘n’ roll documentary by Ms. Ondi Timoner that took over seven years to develop; her efforts snagged a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. The film traces two pop culture bands, the Dandy Warhols (named for pop artist Andy Warhol) and the Brian Jonestown Massacre (named for the Rolling Stones guitarist and 60’s bad boy legend Brian Jones). The BJM presented itself as a psychedelic ’60s-revivalist group, perhaps in the belief it could be a Velvet Underground for this generation’s freaks.
The film audaciously follows the two West Coast band’s love and then their disdain for each other after a personal feud between their respective leaders, Courtney Taylor (Dandy Warhols) and Anton Newcombe (BJM)–a feud that could be real or only staged for publicity (Who really cares!). For a reason I never understood Courtney Taylor is the narrator, which takes care of any objectivity as far as the feuding bands go. As far as I’m concerned, Courtney was not held to the same fires as his counterpart by Ms. Timoner and the equally crass, drugged-up and self-serving rocker was let off the hook while his rival was burned at the stake (deservedly so, I might add).
What clicks are those years of interviews with members of both bands, the pulling together of some lively performance footage from early on, and the filmmaker being the fly on the wall in the studio capturing both the creative process and their personal squabbles. These scenes paid off big time in presenting such an outlandish soap opera story about how the bands went on two different paths–the Dandys a packaged relative commercial success story, especially in Europe on a festival tour, even landing a spot with Capitol Records, while BJM imploded from heroin use, the leader’s self-destructive behavior and ego-maniacal rantings, physical fights among themselves and with the audience while performing, and their acting in a dysfunctional manner that left them reeling in bad luck (left without a major record label) while trying to survive on the club circuit instead of in big time venues.
The film’s most salient point might be in pointing out how discipline and professionalism sometimes counts for more than talent in achieving success (Courtney confesses in a self-deprecating manner that Anton is the more talented of the two, but is too screwed up with his mental problems to capitalize on that).
I was unfamiliar with the music from either group and felt no particular pangs for either band’s music afterwards, though those in the music field, even those who can’t stand BJM for personal reasons, seem to think that as mentally disturbed, obnoxious and juvenile as Anton is–his talent is up there with Bob Dylan (to me, that seems like a stretch). One record company president, Greg Shaw, gives Anton this high praise “He’s more than just a jerk.” What I got from their musical performance was not much but, in all fairness, it was hard to judge their music when there were so many distractions because their stupid behavior reduced their music to the background.
Dig! is ultimately a frantic behind the scenes look at the pop music business, and the lifestyles and desperation of two supposedly cool bands into drugs and all the other perks that go with being in a rock band.
The album title that most got my attention was Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Thank God For Mental Illness,” which is about as deep in thought this lightweight band gets on film.
If you dig where I’m coming from, you should ascertain I had my fill with both band leaders stroking their own egos and calling themselves artists.
REVIEWED ON 11/11/2004 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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