Seven years in the making and culled from over 1500 hours of footage, DIG! plunges into the underbelly of rock n roll, unearthing an incredible true story of success and self-destruction. Anton A. Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Courtney Taylor of the Dandy Warhols are star-crossed friends and bitter rivals DIG! is the story of their loves and obsessions, gigs and recordings, arrests and death threats, uppers and downers, and the delicate balance between art and commerce.
Italian fabulist Italo Calvino observed that there are two kinds of artists--those who are prolific and successful, and the tortured geniuses, each gazing at the other in deep jealousy and admiration. The two rock bands chronicled in the documentary DiG! fall easily into this equation. On the side of the tortured geniuses is the Brian Jonestown Massacre, led by the psychedelic and volatile Anton Newcombe. Portland's the Dandy Warhols, fronted by Courtney Taylor, fulfill the role of the artists who, while unable to plumb the artistic depths of their friendly rivals, achieve a fair degree of popular acclaim (in Europe, anyway). Shot over seven years and containing some astonishingly intimate footage, the film represents a labor of love for director Ondi Timoner, who befriended, lived, and traveled with the bands. DiG! will likely be most remembered for a remarkable scene of rock and roll implosion--a show in LA's Viper Room after which the Brian Jonestown Massacre were expected to ink a record deal. Instead, the band erupted in a fist fight onstage. Among themselves.
Does it go uphill or downhill from here? Depends on your definition of the terms. While dooming their careers, the Brian Jonestown Massacre manage to crank out an insane number of self-distributed albums--including three records in a single year. Courtney Taylor and the Dandies regard the musical output of their peers worshipfully and find themselves virtually ignored stateside but huge stars across the pond. While tens of thousands of fans in Germany and the UK sing along to every word at sold-out festivals headlined by the Dandies, Newscombe leads his crew in a nine-hour set in a dingy club for an audience of ten. Throughout the film there are controlled substances imbibed, clothing shed, sitars broken, punches thrown, arrests made. Taylor performs double duty as narrator of the film, begging the question of whether to accept his assertion that he fronts "the most well-adjusted band in America" at face value. The destined-for-greater-things Joel Gion, BJM's tambourine player, is the thief of every scene in which he appears, playing Flavor Flav to Newscombe's Chuck D. For those who want even more immersion, the DVD includes the option to "zoom," or expand, various scenes--a very cool feature. Those responsible for the hilarious excesses of DiG! have made a movie worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as This Is Spinal Tap, as mixed an honor as that might be.
The second of this set's two discs is practically its own sequel. Director Ondi Timoner had 1500 hours of footage to work with, so there was plenty of good material left on the cutting-room floor that found its way onto this supplemental disc. The deleted scenes include an unintentionally haunting pre-9/11 interview on a New York rooftop with BJM's Anton Newcombe; the twin towers loom behind the singer as he attempts to justify singing about love yet engaging in violence, drawing tenuous parallels between himself and militant prophets throughout history. This, and Newcombe's delight in listening to Charles Manson's musical recordings, is about as heavy as it gets, though. Other extras include various videos by the bands, with the conspicuous absence of the Dandy Warhol's David LaChapelle-directed "Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth." (The omission is understandable in light of the Dandies' sour grapes over the $400,000 video.) The Where Are They Now features find various members of the bands a little older and reflective, with new families and new gigs, reminiscing fondly on the seven years spent under Timoner's watchful spycam. As is the case with the film proper, the mood picks up whenever Joel Gion appears. When is this guy going to get his own talk show? For fans of Timoner's commentary on disc 1 there is--get this--footage of the director and her partners recording that commentary. Why there's no footage of Timoner watching and commenting on the footage of herself recording the commentary is anyone's guess. --Ryan Boudinot
Dig These Discs by the Brian Jonestown Massacre
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Dig These Discs by the Dandy Warhols
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Dig These Documentaries (and One Classic Mockumentary) on DVD