Directed by Ondi Timoner (2004)
by Francis Friel
The Projectionist at Moviejawn
Courtney gets a cellphone commercial. Anton gets a fist to the face from his guitarist. That’s basically DIG! In two sentences. Two talented bands, one led by a love-and-rock-worshipping guru, the other led by a guy who wants to be the first guy. They begin as best friends, and end as strangely-codependent rivals. But they’re locked on to each other, for better or worse.
It’s actually kind of funny (and suuuuper shitty) that the first words we hear from Courtney Taylor-Taylor (the hyphen coming from the fact that, yep, his parents share a last name…clever, Courtney) of the Dandy Warhols and Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre are Anton announcing to the audience that what we are about to hear are a band on the cusp of a full-scale musical revolution before playing a Dandy's song…then Courtney saying that his friendship with Anton is his “biggest regret.” But that right there is the biggest, I feel, problem with the film. Allowing Courtney to narrate the entire story lets him editorialize on the fly (the narration often sounds like it’s being made up as he goes, as he sometimes seems to be getting very frustrated with his own story in the recording booth). It also allows the film to paint Anton as the Tragic Rock Genius Figure that he may well be, but in this instance it’s all about how that got him nowhere while the Dandy Warhols are selling out European stadiums (cause of that cellphone ad).
So. The rise and fall of the BJM exists mostly as folklore. They’re like the Loch Ness Monsters of indie artists. As someone points out late in the story “All those 60s bands who got into drugs and flamed out...they were famous FIRST.” Yeah. The BJM were never huge. This movie is basically the best you’re going to see of them. But it is pretty incredible. All the things that made them legendary are all here, and the spectacle is very real, and worth it. Anton kicking a fan in the face from the stage. Firing bandmates mid-set. Appearing out of the blue on roller skates to hand out copies of his new single Not If You Were The Last Dandy on Earth at a Dandy Warhols show. Mixing thirteen songs and hiring a new drummer on his birthday. Releasing three absolutely stellar records in 1996 alone. And doing everything he can to tell the world about his favorite band, the Dandy Warhols, while at the same time having that band ape and steal everything interesting about the Brian Jonestown Massacre to achieve super-stardom (for a while).
But it’s probably true that the film actually hurt Anton and the BJM more than it helped. It’s a common sentiment these days to point out that young artists and musicians putting their work online before that work is ready is always a detrimental action. For one thing, you’re putting yourself out there where anyone can steal your stuff. On the other hand, you’re opening yourself up to mass rejection before you even know who you really are as an artist, or what it is you’re really trying to say. And so it is for being the subject of a seven-years-in-the-making documentary. Your entire arc as an artist just starting to put yourself out there into the world is captured for a (potentially) huge audience to see. And when the most notable part of your act is the constant fist-fights that break out, either between band and audience, or band against itself, it’s possible that that is more interesting as a carnival sideshow than as an act that a record label might want to throw money into.
And I know, this movie came out over a decade ago. Whatever effect the film had on him is probably long forgotten. Anton is touring right now, as you’re reading this. He’ll be in Philly (the city Moviejawn calls home) this month. He’ll be in Canada. France. He’s touring the world RIGHT NOW. But I wonder if he ever sees a copy of DIG! on the shelf in a video store in Sweden or some weird place like that and he just mutters under his breath, “those motherfuckers...”