Seven years in the making, this documentary tracks, then-unknown, US bands The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre as they launch their musical careers. Pretty soon the Dandys make it big, while Jonestown start to crumble under the weight of their frontman’s ego…
You’ve heard about the successful band that implodes in a frenzy of clashing egos and copious drugs. Now hear about the unsigned band that reaches rock meltdown way ahead of widespread recognition and fat paycheques. Our troubled troubadours are retro-psychedelics The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and this rock opera of a documentary follows them as they kick-start a “musical revolution” along with soulmates The Dandy Warhols.
Thing is, while the Dandys bugger off to Europe and make it big, the apparently more talented Jonestown achieve devolution, not revolution, shedding band members like confetti, and the only thing lead man Anton Newcombe kicks is a punter’s face after he’s heckled on stage. But what filmmaker Ondi Timoner is left with is a gripping record of creative angst and deteriorating relationships.
DiG! is a dizzying collage, thrumming with the energy of a live performance; a jam session of colour and monochrome, a medley of performances, arguments and parties. With its epic timeframe — Timoner cut from 1,500 hours of footage — this is the documentarian’s equivalent of the Method. Living, touring and partying with her subjects, Timoner puts us centre-front for the gig.
We’re there as Jonestown get busted for drugs, as their manager deserts mid-tour, as they hoover narcotics from the coffee table. And the spectacle of the unfolding inter-band schism is grimly hilarious, culminating with Newcombe delivering shotgun shells to the Dandys’ dressing room. In equal measure, moments of pathos permeate, such as when a maudlin Joel Gion (the band’s scene-stealing Bez figure) reflects on how he’s wasted four years being little more than a drug-addled tambourine man.
As riveting as this mêlée of spiralling egos is, DiG! earns its fifth and final star as a microcosm of ‘indie’ music on the cusp of corporate take-over. Stupendous serendipity has gifted Timoner the perfect parable of the 1990s music industry. While Newcombe’s deranged commitment to the indie spirit precludes his success, The Dandys trigger a new, thoroughly modern mechanism of music marketing, becoming huge off a mobile phone advert. Where once plugging a product would be the death-knell for artistic credibility, in these days of corporate cool-hunters and sponsored tours, it’s almost a prerequisite.
A vibrant and vivid documentary masterwork, DiG! will have you celebrating independent filmmaking while lamenting the state of independent music-making.