November 26, 2004

Amateur Movie Review: Dig!

I was lucky enough to catch a movie last night I missed during it’s eye-blink theatrical release. The documentary Dig is being shown on the Sundance Channel, and if you’re pop music fan, you might not want to miss this. Instead of being obsessed with the career trajectory of one band, this movie follows two. One ends a moderate success, the other a self-inflicted disaster. The success is the Dandy Warhols, the disaster is The Brian Jonestown Massacre. The bands are lead by prototype rock stars: skinny, pretty, egotistical genius types Courtney Taylor (the head Dandy) and Anton Newcombe (who basically IS the BJM).

The bands share a particular aesthetic; 60’s art pop revivalists who worship at the alters of Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards, plus a healthy dose of Arthur Lee-style weirdness. The two bands began as friends, sitting in on each other’s shows. Their careers start going in different directions, and that is where the fun starts. Taylor whips the Dandies into a passable alt-rock group, gets signed to Capitol and sets out in the morass of corporate rock. Newcombe plays an industry showcase at the Viper Room in LA. It doesn’t go so well. Anton freaks out, and starts a brawl with his bandmates. It’s the first of many This is Spinal Tap moments from the BJM.

From there the movie tracks the career paths of both. The Dandy Warhols sign for too much money, come with a okay album with the not-quite a hit single “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth”. Capitol goes overboard with the video, spending $500,000 on a David LaChapelle mess that the band hates. The single tanks, and from there the band spends most of the movie trying to get promotion and radio play. The feuds between the band and the label are endlessly entertaining. The Brian Jonestown Massacre sinks deeper into drugs and self-destruction. The band breaks up numerous times, and never gets off the ground. Most of this is due to Anton; he’s obsessed with “cred” and seems completely unable to deal with any of the industry side of music.

One of the odder parts of the movie is the obsession with Anton’s “genuis” . It’s always mentioned, but seldom seen. Certainly the BJM has some nice songs, but never seem quite aware of how to play them. Perhaps if Anton has the patience or focus to clean up his work , they might be great. The Dandies are the opposite; competent, polished alt-rock with a couple of nice singles. For disclosure, I bought their first album The Dandy Warhols Come Down and liked it. The movie ends with them a working class band, big in Europe, but nothing spectacular. The BJM are in shambles, and seem destined to stay that way.

If you’re interesting in Anton Newcombe’s music (and there is some good stuff) he’s posted mp3s of just about everything he’s recorded here.

Posted by Frinklin at November 26, 2004 10:29 AM

I watched "Dig!" a few weeks ago and I came away impressed.

Joel Gion (the tambourine man for the BJM) was absolutely hysterical. I did feel bad for him and the rest of the BJM not named Anton Newcombe. They seemed like good guys, but Anton always brought them down in the end.

As for the Dandy Warhols, I wish I would have known about them a long time ago. I'm only now getting into their music, which is not too bad. I love "Bohemian Like You". Too bad that it was only a big hit in Europe.

"Dig!", one of the better music movies you'll see. Check it out.

Posted by: Jeremy at November 27, 2004 02:36 PM

I've been exploring the BJM's mp3 page. Some of this stuff is really good. It's a damned shame that Anton couldn't get it straight enough to get an actual record contract. He sure seems to be the real deal, though his knack for ripping off 60's album titles is annoying. Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request and Bringing it all Back Home Again? C'mon...

As for the Dandies, my wife had me dig out my copy of Come Down; she's been playing the hell out of Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth

Posted by: frinklin at November 27, 2004 07:13 PM

Heroin is so passe...

Posted by: Jeremy at November 27, 2004 08:30 PM
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