|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 12 April 2005|
In purely simplistic terms, The Dandy Warhols can be viewed as the most professional of these two outfits. But that’s not really saying much, since your little cousin’s garage band would look like a slick music-making machine when placed next to the accident-waiting-to-happen The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Nevertheless, Taylor’s group, which he calls the least dysfunctional band in rock at one point during the film, gets signed to the major label of Capitol Records and is filmed during a highly successful tour of England, making a large-budget rock video. But both bands also battle with drugs, war with record companies and fight among themselves – and in the case of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, such infighting turns out to be the physical variety.
Timoner knew she had a great story the moment The Brian Jonestown Massacre came to blows during a memorable showcase at The Viper Room in front of multiple record company representatives. This event also exemplified Newcombe’s perverse career aspirations: Naturally, he wants the world to hear his band’s music; he just doesn’t want to have to sell his soul to make such success happen.
Everybody around Newcombe refers to him as a musical genius – including Taylor, the film’s narrator. Yet these same admirers also realize that he’s a time bomb just waiting for the most inopportune moment to explode. Such explosions range from the fisticuffs exchanged during the ill-fated Viper Room gig, to the band money Newcombe blows on vanity sitars. But just as nuclear power can be used for evil or good, Newcombe’s strengths – when channeled correctly – are astounding. There are clips here of the band playing live, which show off precisely why this ‘60s music-inspired band is so good at putting that era’s philosophies into the modern vernacular. There are also scenes of Newcombe in the studio, where he works like an obsessed savant at perfecting his tunes. When he’s making music, Newcombe can be a truly beautiful person.
Whereas The Brian Jonestown Massacre attempts to replicate peace and love vibes through its music, The Dandy Warhols reach for a chillier, more detached aesthetic. Taylor sings with one of those bored, been-there-done-that sort of voices, which gives the band’s music an oddly distant beauty. His songs are a little more straightforward than Newcombe’s, and the group’s playing is a slightly simpler rock style. So in addition to the more likeable personalities involved, The Dandys obviously have a stronger commercial upside than does The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Even so, The Dandy Warhols fall victim to the modern-day music business’ “We need a hit song” direction. When their debut album doesn’t immediately produce a hit single right out of the gate, a tangible conflict between The Dandys and Capital Records begins to grow.
Artistic talents and highly developed social skills are rarely found existing together within the hearts and minds of musicians. This is why The Brian Jonestown Massacre goes through numerous changes during the seven years it took to make this movie. It’s also why Newcombe has strained relationships with his parents, the members of The Dandy Warhols and his girlfriend. While the members of The Dandy Warhols do an alright job of balancing their work lives with their personal lives, Newcombe has trouble seeing anything beyond his next great song, which turns personal relationships into roadblocks that sometimes must be bulldozed.
If The Viper Room incident wasn’t enough, this film also shows many other examples of Newcombe’s bizarre behavior. Near the end of the film, for instance, Newcombe is captured at a New York City music business convention passing out copies of a derogatory song he’d recently written about The Dandy Warhols. It serves to reinforce his love/hate relationship with the band. Not only is he adding fuel to the fire by passing out this recorded gift, if you will, but he does so while he is obviously drunk and hopelessly attempting to roller-skate. During this same East Coast trip, he also visits his new record company, and then proceeds to tell everybody there within earshot that his band is going to make them a ton of money. But would you believe such a weirdo on roller-skates?
The distinct contrasts between The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre are further exemplified by how well or poorly their tours go. While Taylor is seen answering questions from foreign journalists, The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s van is stopped in the Deep South as the group is busted for drugs. During another nightmarish BJM tour through the Midwest, the group is shown falling apart in the middle of the night, as members leave the group before the tour is even completed. Clearly, Newcombe runs this circus show, and he’ll always be the last clown left standing.
This DVD’s extras are well worth a look, as are its audio commentaries. Many of the deleted scenes shed extra light on the stories behind the story. It’s fun, for example, to watch the full Dandy Warhol music videos. Additionally, the filmmakers’ audio commentaries help give the film a little more context. Listening to them talk over the various scenes, you’re able to understand the reasons why they shaped this film the way they did. Their enthusiasm for this subject matter is contagious, and Timoner sounds like she’s rediscovering the joys of this creative process as she relives each cinematic moment.
It’s tempting to view “Dig!” as a warning to new musicians: Don’t act like Newcombe! But Newcombe’s behavior is not an act; he is what he is, love him or leave him. He’s a lot like The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, in that he just wasn’t made for these times. There is a childlike innocence about his persona, which doesn’t fit neatly into the assembly line-like structure of today’s (or any day’s) music business. And while The Dandy Warhols may be perfectly happy making a nice living from selling their music, Newcombe would likely be just as screwed-up, with or without money in the bank. As hard as it is to watch at times, this fine film truthfully shows Newcombe in all his complicated glory.