You say you want a revolution? Well, most bands want to change the world. Thing is, excess, ego, The Man and success often get in the way, as Ondi Timoner's documentary discovers over seven years with US alt-rock bands The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
The hairy and hilarious BJM lose it in a tumult of time-tested rock'n'roll trouble. Meanwhile, the eight-legged preen-package of the Dandys do very nicely - after licensing one of their songs to a cellphone ad. It's in probing the thin lines between genius and lunacy, success and selling-out, mutton-chops and narcissism, that Timoner's tragi-comedy of inter- and intra-band tantrums proves so car-crash compelling.
Culled from 1,500 hours of footage, DIG! begins with the yin-yang bands as friends. "We're gonna take over the world!" goes the battle cry. The Dandys' singer, Courtney Taylor, and The BJM's messianic wild man of psychedelic mayhem, Anton Newcombe, look like alter egos leeching off each other. The clean-cut Taylor has his band snapped in the BJM's elegantly shabby pad, as if Newcombe's messy mob's wasted cool will rub off on him. Once the Dandys rise, Newcombe's attempt at initiating a Blur versus Oasis-style spat descends into cheap playground animosity.
Sadly, Newcombe, although wildly prolific, increasingly looks a few songs short of a full set. First, he claims the cops are out to kill him. Then, while the Dandys play the majors game, he sabotages his every chance of conventional success. At an industry showcase gig, he physically attacks his band. Offered a record deal, he sends his mashed maracas-player to sign on his behalf. Recording a major-label debut, he hits heroin. On roller-skates, claiming he's "the son of God", he's hilarious. But on smack? He's got real worry.
Still, even after The Story Of The Ramones and Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster, Newcombe does emerge as a star like no other. The Dandys might be a slick singles machine, but they know deep down that Newcombe's maniacal muse is something they lack. In that sense, DIG! is as gripping a character study as it is an industry exposé.
Idea for a sequel: as the Dandys decline, DIG! catapults Newcombe's new line-up of the BJM to fame... `Bohemian Like You', indeed.
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A rich warts-and-all account of rock follies. You may watch its embarrassment through your fingers, but watch it you should.