Dig! the divergent fortunes of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols
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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey has us thinking about other “inside the band” documentaries.
In Bull Durham, a brash, arrogant young fireballer (Tim Robbins) with a million-dollar arm and a two-cent head gets counsel from a veteran minor-league catcher (Kevin Costner) assigned to get him ready for the majors. The vet has this to say about the fungus on the pitcher’s shower shoes: “If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back on your shower shoes and the press will think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you’re a slob.” That lesson was never learned by Anton Newcombe, the wildly talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind The Brian Jonestown Massacre, a psychedelic rock revival band that displayed all the excesses of fame without ever being famous. As many have noted, Ondi Timoner’s riveting documentary Dig! plays like a real-life This Is Spinal Tap, as Newcombe pontificates about his own preternatural genius, assaults members of his own band onstage, and at one point invites a Georgia state trooper to search his van for drugs—which the trooper then finds easily.
Shot over a seven-year period starting in the mid-’90s and whittled down from about 1,500 hours of footage, Dig! follows the divergent fortunes of Newcombe’s band and Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s The Dandy Warhols, which has a similar sensibility, but with a more radio-friendly power-pop edge. Newcombe and Taylor-Taylor are frenemies who admire in one another what they each seem to lack: Taylor-Taylor thinks Newcombe is the greatest musical genius of his generation, and Newcombe, for all his punkish claims to integrity and independence, seethes over Taylor-Taylor’s (relative) success. Beyond being a half-hilarious/half-harrowing portrait of rock at its most pretentious and needlessly self-destructive, Dig! is also a useful window into the ’90s “alternative” scene, when bands like The Dandy Warhols were signed and dropped with regularity if their first single (and attendant six-figure video) failed to catch fire. That both bands survived and continue to operate in some form today—albeit with a lot of turnover in BJM—is remarkable based on the footage here, but it’s also a testament to two men who could not possibly do anything else.
Availability: Not on Blu-ray or any free-with-subscription streaming sites, but available for digital rental and purchase and on a two-disc DVD set.