Dig! Movie Review

Music documentaries come in one of two major flavors: Concert films like Woodstock and The Last Waltz, and fawning fan videos like recent documentaries about Wilco, They Might Be Giants, and Phish.

DiG! falls into a wholly new category, which is definitely a good thing for this genre.

DiG! is the result of director Ondi Timoner's tireless tracking of two pun-tastically named bands, The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, from 1995 to 2003. Timoner had complete and total access to the groups from the very beginning. They play in tiny clubs, hang out in each other's houses, and generally behave like musicians behave. But things quickly start to unravel all around. The Dandies achieve some (very) modest success after getting signed by Capitol Records, while Jonestown appears to self destruct, thanks to its explosive frontman Anton Newcombe. Fights break out onstage -- and with the audience -- and after a couple of years, BJM breaks up in the middle of a tour.

Meanwhile, the Dandies are touring Europe and struggling to find mainstream acceptance, dealing with the typical record label hassles which have become commonplace in stories about this industry. But something funny is going on: Once close friends, Anton Newcombe and the remnants of BJM (which have cobbled together a small record deal) launch an all-out hate campaign against the Dandy Warhols. They put out special albums that specifically target their rivals. They give individually wrapped shotgun shells to each Dandy member. Ultimately, restraining orders are sought. Meanwhile, BJM maintains it is all a publicity stunt put on for the benefit of the press -- a kind of Stones vs. Beatles or Blur vs. Oasis rivalry, meant to drum up interest in both bands. The problem is that no one seems to have told the Dandies this -- and given that Newcombe is genuinely scary-crazy -- maybe it's not a put-on after all.

While DiG! doesn't offer much new in its histrionical hair-tearing about the music industry, it does make for an interesting character study between Newcombe and Dandies frontman Courtney Taylor. Strangely, though, Taylor was tapped to narrate the film, which he does from a first person perspective about what was going on at each turn. This bends the documentary disastrously toward the Dandies' point of view, and you can't help but feel like Newcombe is probably getting short shrift.

Timoner's footage is all crappy VHS work, with blown out shots, bad focus, atrocious sound, and iffy editing to hold it all together. As a storyteller, she's got some amazing raw material. It's a shame she wasn't able to do more with what she had, but even considering its flaws, DiG! isn't a bad way to spend 105 minutes.

The new DVD adds piles of extras: Three commentary tracks (one from the Dandies, one from Brian Jonestown Massacre, and one from the film crew), two hours of extra scenes, five music videos/live performances, a handy "where are they now" update, a session of Newcombe and Taylor jamming together, and even -- wow -- video footage shot during the recording of the commentary tracks.


Comments

Dig! Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 2004

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