Wednesday, 12 October 2011

"Dig!" Review

Dig! (2005)
Dir: Ondi Timoner

Ondi Timoner’s “Dig!” follows the friendship and rivalry between the founding members of the up and coming American West Coast retro revival bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols; Anton Newcombe and Courtney Taylor, respectively.

The film features many snippets of live performances from both bands as well as very intimate footage of all members of the bands.

Like Timoner’s other film, “We Live in Public”, I found the story captivating and compelling, but I felt the editing was at times obtrusive. The film suffered from what many documentaries suffer from, including Timoner’s other film, and that is when talking head interviews are used to build up the profile of the fairly unknown subject. There are multiple people that spout soundbites like “Anton’s writing is among Lennon/Macartney and Dylan”, onto the next expert: “Newcombe’s songs were transcendent”, next expert: “I think Anton is the best working musician”. I’m not interested in what some schmuck has to say about the subject, just show us why Anton Newcombe is so important.

And that’s another problem I had with the film. Sure I enjoyed The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s music, but much of what people said about the genius of Anton Newcombe was lost on me. Obviously musical taste is subjective, but that is all the more reason to focus on the really interesting story between the two bands. And to Timoner’s credit the film does focus a lot on that aspect.

What I loved about the film is how well the story plays out. You start the two bands, both relatively unknown, and see how they are all friends and support each other, and as the film progresses you get to witness two very distinct ways of breaking into the music industry. The Dandy Warhols are picked up by Capitol Records while The Brian Jonestown Massacre slave away playing gigs and toughing it out in the underground.

Tensions begin to fray when Courtney Taylor shows Anton Newcombe his band’s new proposed single “Not If You Were the Last Junky on Earth” and when David LaChappelle signs on to direct the video clip. It seems like The Dandy Warhols have made it and, in Anton’s eyes, they’ve sold out. He and his band go out and record a counter record called “Give It Back” with a single of their own: “Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth”.

As the film progresses, The Dandy Warhols become more and more popular, while The Brian Jonestown Massacre bicker, fight and flounder in the LA underground. And as the film went on I found myself getting more and more agitated with everything Courtney Taylor said and the way he said it. He seemed very smug and he and his band felt like total posers. The Dandy Warhols' music got worse and worse too. Meanwhile, Anton Newcombe was going on tirades against The Dandys and everyone in his band.  He often spouts of arrogant lines about how he’s the best thing ever and no one else in the band matters and that everyone but him is replaceable. As a character I found him very interesting.

As for The Brian Jonestown Massacre, their music I enjoy, but I don’t see why it’s so mind-blowing and ingenious. It isn’t anything I haven’t heard before; and sometimes it’s cool to hear something new yet familiar, but a lot of the songs feel uninspired and derivative. I don’t buy into Anton’s distaste of The Dandy Warhols coming from jealousy. He says that the Dandy’s first album was great, but he laments the direction they have taken, and I can’t say I blame him.

In the same vain as this film is “The Devil and Daniel Johnson” (2005), following a mentally unstable ‘genius’, but personally I much prefer Johnson’s music to either bands in this film.

If you are a fan of either band then it’s a must see. But as someone who isn’t too interested in The Dandy Warhols and thinks the Brian Jonestown Massacre are pretty good, I can say that the film will play very well to non fans too. This is a documentary that non-documentary fans will also enjoy, because it’s very character driven. And that may make the film muddled, and annoying at times, but at least it’s better than a fucking Inconvenient Truth.

Top 5 Things About “Dig!”
5. Timoner’s access to her subject(s).
4. People bickering.
3. The useless fucking guy in The BJM who plays the tambourine.
2. Anton’s sideburns by the end of the film.
1. Anton’s swift kick to the head of an audience member.


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