Sunday, 9 October 2005

DiG! (2004) - ickleReview (cinema)

Documentary about two US West-Coast rock bands, The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Anton Newcombe, frontman of the BJM, hails himself as a musical revolutionary, writing better stuff than anyone else out there, promising early in the film to show us how it's done, take us on a wild ride with him. The BJM are a big influence on the Dandys, who in 1996 were still in awe of them. Within a few years, however, the Dandys have been signed to a major record label and are making $400,000 videos with the fashion photographer David LaChapelle. The BJM are whipsnappingly productive, churning out five albums in two years, yet they never quite make the breakthrough, although they enjoy the underground credo of their indie scene.

The bands start out as friends, but the Dandys always seem to be a bit more switched on. They don't do as many drugs and they come from stabler homes...and they don't fight each other on stage, something which the BJM always seem to do when the industry bigwigs are watching, about to sign them to a big deal. The prima donna Newcombe always holds them back. It's as if he doesn't want success, doesn't want to sell out as Courtney Taylor-Taylor and the Dandy Warhols are only too willing to do.

As the Dandys become more successful, the rivalry between the two bands starts to heat up. The Dandys turn up unannounced at the BJM squat in Portland for a photo shoot the night after a heavy heroin party; Newcombe responds by writing a parodic track "Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth" (ripping off the Dandys' "Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth", the first track really to impress Newcombe).
Joel Gion of the BJM
Dandys lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor narrates part of the movie, which seems to capture every significant moment in the arc of these bands' careers: the fights, the parties, the getting arresteds in Atlanta on tour. It doesn't take itself too seriously, tripping on the same vein as BJM member Joel Gion (see picture), who seems to do nothing except get wasted, be kinda funny lookin' and play the tambourine. A self-conscious expose - these bands know they're rock 'n' roll, and even though their music is nothing special and they're all a bunch of losers, the rock mystique nevertheless transforms them somehow.

The American music industry looks so fickle. These bands can't get airplay, and yet they pack the venues in Europe and Japan. The Dandys sell 40,000 UK records in two weeks and play in front of over 100,000 on the summer festival circuit. The talking heads from the indie labels that sign these bands complain how stupid the big record companies' marketing strategy is: blowing hundreds of thousands on a few select bands, making expensive videos, crowbarring airplay, when only 1 in 10 of them gets you a hit. The money could be spread more evenly, allowing more bands to make records at a more modest profit, the sort of records the public really want to buy, not the sort they have to be told to buy by capitalass commercialism.

We see, essentially, the BJM break down on camera, blowing one opportunity after another, tearing themselves apart, acting like the kids they evidently still are. Newcombe (everyone keeps telling us) is a genius; and with that comes all the egotistical cretinous behaviour, making him such a cunt to live and work with (cf. Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Bob Dylan, etc.). He may be musically creative, but he lacks the smarts in every other aspect of life, although there is something admirable in his refusal to be commercially successful, to make the most of his ability.
Nugget: a great study of commercial success versus underground cool; cleaned up act against fucked up junkies; lucky averagebodies over wasted talent.

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