Dig” is a tumultuous journey through the art and industry of rock ‘n’ roll . Documenting two bands over a seven-year period, director Ondi Timoner has fashioned a portrait of the rock ‘n’ roll artist as a vain and deluded headcase.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre is a dysfunctional family led by Anton Newcombe, a megalomaniac whose violent unpredictability makes him a poor commercial investment. The Dandy Warhols, fronted by Courtney Taylor, are a happy crew of ambitious kids who crave the glamour of success. Taylor and Newcombe, once the best of friends who envisioned themselves as leaders of a rock ‘n’ roll revolution, wind up at opposite ends of the shtick.
The story begins in 1996, with the Dandies hashing out their first record with Capitol Records, while BJM lays down its first independent release in 17 hours on home audio equipment. The career division between the two bands gets wider when Capitol spends $400,000 for the Dandies to make a video with the trendy David LaChapelle, while BJM records its album for $17. Taylor is a fussy pussycat who resembles a neutered Mick Jagger, while Newcombe exhibits the negative aggression of a paranoid cult leader.
Timoner uses interviews and band clips to create her portraits of Newcombe and Taylor.
“He is a brilliant monster, my ultimate inspiration and my ultimate regret,” Taylor says of Newcombe. “He is always three years ahead of me and I can never catch up.”
BJM bass/guitarist Matt Hollywood, who quit the band after Newcombe physically attacked him on stage, explains Newcombe’s failing as his “pretending to be God and not being able to back it up.”
Newcombe, heralded as a genius by nearly every person appearing in the film, does not come across as a particularly exceptional musician. His performances are sloppy affairs of incompetently recycled pop music cliches. In the end, abandoned by abused band members, Newcombe kicks an audience member in the face and is taken away by the police. Meanwhile, the Dandies release another bubbly album and continue to have fun.
From the druggy ferocity of Newcombe’s egocentricity to Taylor’s narcissistic video shoots, “Dig” captures the infantile fantasies of rock ‘n’ roll’s self-made messiahs with an honesty that is rare in today’s MTV world of promotional entertainment.