2004, NR, 115 min. Directed by Ondi Timoner.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Jan. 7, 2005
It’s 1995. Anton Newcombe, the brains and heart behind the band the Brian Jonestown Massacre, is unspooling a tape by his friends, fellow 1960s pop-rock revivalists the Dandy Warhols. "We’re going to take over the world," he grins into the camera. For the next seven years, director Timoner followed both groups on this so-called revolution: from crash pads to signing parties; from video shoots to pot busts in Homer, Ga.; and from innocence to experience. It’s a gripping journey, one that exposes the mercurial mercantilism of the music business and the perils of genius and egomania. When he’s not snorting china white and pouring dishwashing liquid into his butt, Newcombe makes music at a furious pace, releasing as many as three self-produced albums in a single year. He torments his bandmates just as frenziedly, literally brawling with them and firing them onstage. ("I don’t do anything wrong," he tells sideman Matt Hollywood. "That’s why I never say I’m sorry.") While BJM plays a 10-hour set at the Communist Party headquarters in Cleveland, Capitol Records signs the Dandys and sinks $400,000 into a video for their supposed hit single "Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth." And then the shit really hits the fan. Timoner follows the groups’ divergent paths diligently but is clearly riveted by Newcombe, who seems to have dissociated himself from the production – along with perhaps everything else – after photography. (Courtney Taylor of the Dandys narrates.) Newcombe’s downfall, so obviously engendered by his uncompromising approach to musical expression, is captured in painfully, horribly intimate detail. The film is so candid and real that it’s like watching a friend slip into the morass of addiction, obsession, and pig-headed self-absorption. Unsurprisingly, it gets a little raw at times (watch for the boom dipping into the shot), despite slick postproduction and savvy editing that set the film to the head-rush pace of "Every Day Should Be a Holiday." What’s best is that even though the story is set among tragic hipsters – behold Joel Gion, BJM’s mutton-chopped, photogenic tambourine man – its take on friendship and ambition is without irony. Taylor seems to like being filmed, but nobody’s really posing here. There’s a genuine sense of loss when dreams go unrealized, and in these moments DiG! transcends the typical "rock movie" format and aspires to something greater: an examination of why we create and what we receive from art. The film received the Documentary Grand Jury award at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. (Tuesday-Thursday only.)