DiG!(Palm Pictures, 4.12.2005)
So who is Anton Newcombe, enigmatic badboy frontman for indie rockers the Brian Jonestown Massacre? A tortured musical genius? An unstable smack addict prone to lashing out at loved ones and swinging away at rowdy fans? An unappreciated underground revolutionary? A giant asshole? Ondi Timoner spent seven years following the BJM and their revival rock brethren the Dandy Warhols, lead by Newcombe disciple and rival Courtney Taylor, as both bands flirted with mainstream success, fell in and out of favor with each other, and got sloshed out of their minds in some of the dingiest dives in the Pacific Northwest.
Not surprisingly, both bands met DiG! with a mixture of pleasure and pain, particularly Newcombe who hated the movie but, in a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, conceded that it's done him a lot of good (like BJM's spot in Lollapalooza this summer). Still, Newcombe felt the movie demonized him. Rock aficionados bristled at Timoner letting Taylor narrate the movie, giving last word to an asshole who only looks like less of an asshole when spliced against Newcombe. Both bands grumbled about inaccuracies.
The three commentary tracks from the BJM, the Dandys, and Timoner (with her co-producers and cinematographers David Timoner and Vasco Lucas Nunes) on the 2-disc DiG! DVD give all sides a chance to set the record straight, although Newcombe, unsurprisingly, is a no-show. The perspectives, perhaps, are predictable as well. Take the Dandys inviting the BJM to the set of their shiny music video. The BJM snicker on their track about how hypocritical it is for Taylor to sing "I never thought you'd be a junkie because heroin is so passe" at Newcombe when the Dandys were every bit as strung out on drugs and marvel at how much everything costs. The Dandys fondly recall showing up to their twelve hour shoot hung over and marvel at how much money Newcombe threw away because his eccentricities kept him on the outs with record labels. Timoner maintains objectivity.
Maybe the commentaries don't clear up much about Timoner's portrayals of Newcombe and Taylor, except for who was at what party when and how much the Dandys' videos cost. But the perspectives are welcome nonetheless and only deepen the bizarre mix of love and hate that spurred both bands in the late 90s. It's true that Newcombe doesn't get his due as a musician. There's more footage of him high, fighting, and making sanctimonious proclamations than there is of him performing in earnest.
It's also true that Taylor is every bit the bacchanal egotist, just one who could market himself better. But what's fascinating about DiG! isn't just its frank portrait of rock and roll hubris run amok. It's how Timoner dramatizes that essential indie rock conundrum: how to maintain your cachet while reaching enough people to matter.
Newcombe may very well be some kind of bohemian gutter genius but does his self-imposed squalor and the spoiled-brat demeanor that breaks up the BJM every couple years really make him better or more pure than Taylor who, despite plenty of personality problems himself, managed to play the industry game, kept his band together, and focused its energy into records that people actually bought?
The rest of the special features pad out the film with some amusing deleted scenes, interviews, Dandy videos, and a couple welcome, composed-live performances from the BJM. None of these rectifies DiG!'s one flaw -- its dearth of actual music -- which means that fans will have to scrounge through the BJM's and Dandys' back catalogues to make up their own minds. That you'll want to dig deeper is testament to Timoner's accomplishment. -- Joey Tayler